Saturday 18 August 2018

Bertie Ahern warns Ireland not to get involved in 'dog fight' between UK and EU over Brexit

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: Tom Burke
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: Tom Burke

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned that it is not in Ireland's national interests to get involved in "a dog fight" between the UK and the EU over the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Ahern also admitted that he saw "very little light in the tunnel" over the manner in which the Brexit talks have deteriorated between London and Brussels.

He said Ireland needed to show unity with its EU colleagues while protecting vital national interests by not getting dragged into a bitter row with the UK over the precise terms of its exit from the EU.

"I think the Irish position has been very well set out," he said.

"We are all in for a long haul.

"It looks to me as if the British position is quite simple.

"They do not want to follow the agreement that they made when they got into negotiations."

Mr Ahern said it was clear that London wanted to ensure a trade deal is intrinsically linked to all the other Brexit issues identified by the EU.

Despite the fact that two major Brexit meetings are scheduled over the next six weeks, Mr Ahern said he does not anticipate much progress being made given the current mood surrounding the negotiations.

"The British position is to try and roll in the trade issues with the rest of the negotiations," he said.

"I don't believe their thinking is any more complicated - it is not Machiavellian.

"(But) what they risk doing and what I don't want to see happening is that they will get the backs up of the other 27 (EU member states)."

In those circumstances, he warned it was vital for Ireland to distance itself from all Brexit-related feuds.

"There is nothing for us to get involved in a dogfight," he said.

"I think we should stay out of that."

Mr Ahern said what took him by surprise was how bad the atmosphere had been surrounding the Brexit talks.

"The abuse this week - it has been as bad as what it was before Article 50 was triggered.

"I said it back then and I will say it again - I think they should all take a walk in the park and try and calm it down."

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern also said Sinn Fein's suitability and capability to be involved in a future Coalition Government in the Dail, particularly with Fianna Fáil, will be judged by how the party handles the proposed restoration of the Stormont power-sharing executive.

"They (Sinn Fein) are developing - let's be fair about it," he said.

"It is a totally different speech you hear than when I retired in 2008/2009.

"They have far more sensible economic policies. They are moving on."

But he said he believes Sinn Fein's potential involvement in a Leinster House coalition will be determined by a single issue.

"I would really put it down to the one issue," he said.

"I think how they manage the Northern talks and how they get back into the executive - it is a crying shame what is happening.

"Gerry Adams has been through it all - he has a lot of experience and I would have confidence that he will do the right thing."

He said he believed that how Sinn Fein handle the proposed restoration of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland will have a major bearing on how other political parties in the Republic view them as potential Coalition partners.

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