'Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg admitted to me he didn’t know what the Irish border was' - Bertie Ahern
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg admitted to him he didn’t know what the Irish border was.
Mr Ahern also described Mr Rees Mog as a "strange fish, in and out of the water".
In a lively debate on Brexit at the Women In Media Conference in Ballybunion, UCC’s Dr Mary C Murphy also said a greater understanding of the Unionist community in the North needs to be demonstrated in the Republic.
Mr Ahern and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness were in agreement that the backstop was necessary for Ireland in the EU’s negotiations with the UK.
The former Taoiseach told the conference there is a perception that the much talked about backstop was a "massive thousand page document".
"The backstop plan is essentially a safety net. If there’s no exit deal, it will avoid a hard border in the Republic. Basically that’s all it is," he said, adding it would ensure no tariffs or quotas be applied between the EU and the UK.
The former Taoiseach has attended several Brexit committees in Westminster, saying the backstop is used as an excuse by politicians there to "have a go".
Referring to Tory arch Brexiteer, and leader of the party’s European Research Group, Mr Ahern described Jacob Rees Mogg as a "lovely fella when he’s asleep".
When asked by Mairead McGuinness "how do you know?", he replied: "When he’s awake, he definitely is a strange fish I tell you, in and out of the water."
"But the reality is he admitted to me he had no idea of what the border was. I think a lot of British politicians thought the border was something up around Dundalk or Newry, and that there was a gate on it.
"I mean the idea that it was 460 kilometres across the island and that you could criss cross it to farms and houses, they just didn’t know it.
"And regards to the fact that lot of these guys went to Oxford, Cambridge and Eton, they’re not very bright. This is the problem."
"There is nothing wrong with the backstop," he added.
Ms McGuinness paid tribute to EU negotiator Michel Barnier for his "endless patience" he displayed during the negotiations.
Ms McGuinness said she believed there was a lack of understanding in the UK as to what the European Union is, which led to a lack of knowledge as to what was required for them to leave the UK.
UCC lecturer Dr Murphy sounded caution during the debate saying people and politicians south of the Irish border need to demonstrate a greater understanding and knowledge about the Unionist community in the North and why they feel so aggrieved.
She agreed with the backstop and its importance to the Republic "but there is a community in Northern Ireland, and it’s not just the DUP, it’s moderate unionism as well, who feel deeply aggrieved by the Backstop and its implications for their place within the United Kingdom".
"And we can’t write that off. We can’t ignore that," she said.
"I think to some extent there has been insufficient acknowledgement this side of the border about how deeply unionism feels aggrieved by the backstop.
"I’m not sure how you address that but there are probably issues around language. Unionism ca be its own worst enemy as well in terms of some of the characters who are filtering the unionist message.
"It’s made for this very charged negotiating environment which is feeding into that unionist nationalist divide and that politicisation of Brexit which is becoming another cleavage in Northern Ireland politics," she said.