Sunday 25 August 2019

Politicians can't let violence take centre stage over talks, says Ahern

Warning: Bertie Ahern believes politicians risk a return to violence unless government is restored in the North. Photo: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus
Warning: Bertie Ahern believes politicians risk a return to violence unless government is restored in the North. Photo: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus

Jane Last and Sinead Kelleher

Violence will take centre stage in the North unless political leaders "keep at" the talks in a bid to get Stormont back up and running, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.

His call on talks was echoed by Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness and UCC's Dr Mary C Murphy who warned that if talks don't happen in a proper forum, people die. The three were on a panel discussing Brexit at the Women in Media Conference in Ballybunion, Co Kerry. The event is sponsored by Vodafone and the discussion was chaired by journalist Sarah Carey.

Mr Ahern warned the spree of ATM robberies across the North and Border counties was likely the work of people who wish to buy arms.

He also said the New IRA was recruiting people and if politicians don't stay centre stage, violence will take over.

Speaking about the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, Mr Ahern said British Prime Minister Theresa May was "visibly moved" at Ms McKee's funeral.

This prompted her to move ahead with opening talks between the parties in Northern Ireland, he said.

Mr Ahern described the murder of Ms McKee as an "eye-opener for everybody".

He said: "I think her funeral and the events around it have been incredibly sad on one side, but a wake-up call on the other, [which] maybe is a good thing. They [the DUP and Sinn Féin] got to the stage where they believed, wrongly in my view, that their own electorate or the electorate generally didn't really care that there were no institutions.

"And every time you challenge them in private, you get the same old answer. And just the week before Lyra died, I was up in Belfast. I met the DUP people and I met the Sinn Féin people as well and they were saying 'listen we're not under any pressure'.

"That was the difficulty in that they believed there was no pressure on them to actually deal with this. I think there is pressure on them.

"Politicians should never allow centre stage to the violence.

"If politicians don't keep the talks going, and I don't care if they're successful, they have to keep going, and going and going. You have to keep at it."

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern told the conference that Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg admitted to him he didn't know what the Irish Border was.

He also described Mr Rees Mogg as a "strange fish, in and out of the water" and said he was 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 460km 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 a 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.

Mr Ahern said 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.

Mr Ahern has attended several Brexit committees in Westminster, saying the backstop is used as an excuse by politicians there to "have a go".

Elsewhere at the conference, RTÉ broadcaster Katie Hannon was awarded the Mary Cummins award for outstanding achievement, while photographer Valerie O'Sullivan was awarded the Joan Kennelly special media award.

Irish Independent

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