UUP leadership praises Bertie Ahern for ‘exceptional’ role in Good Friday Agreement

Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern (PA)

Gráinne Ní Aodha

Bertie Ahern has been praised as an “exceptional” leader who “moved mountains” at an Ulster Unionist Party event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“He really brought the people of Ireland with him to be able to deliver the Belfast Agreement for all of the people in Northern Ireland, but more importantly, for all of the people on this island,” UUP leader Doug Beattie said.

“We owe him a debt of gratitude, every one of us, every one of our family members, every one of our people owe him a debt of gratitude.”

At an informal event at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, the former taoiseach recalled key moments that led to keeping the UUP in negotiations.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern passes between portraits of Martin McGuinness, left, and Ian Paisley at Stormont (PA)

He said that after the DUP pulled out of the talks in September 1997, it was expected that the UUP would follow, but did not, which led to the party playing “a key role” in the agreement.

“And it was only for David (Trimble), who had the wisdom and the toughness and the foresight to see that that wasn’t the way to go. And that was a tough call for him, a tough call for the party,” he added.

Former leader of the UUP Lord Empey presented Mr Ahern with Titanic Distillers Whiskey; he was also given a green book bound by David Trimble’s daughter Victoria, who was in attendance with her mother Daphne.

Mr Ahern told Mr Beattie that he “greatly admired” his “wisdom and calmness” during difficult times.

“To you Doug, and to the huge efforts that you’re putting in, to the constructive role that you’re you’re playing, I admire greatly – the fact that you’re trying to bring wisdom and calmness to difficult situations. And I just hope that you have the strength and the energy and commitment to keep on because it’s a tough game,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie (PA)

“But there is no other game in town, as they say.”

During his address, Mr Beattie recalled discussing the Good Friday Agreement referendum with his father.

“He said ‘Look, there’s frailties about the Belfast Agreement, there are problems with the Belfast Agreement, but it will give us peace’. And he was right. And we voted in favour of it.”

“And when anybody asks me about those frailties, or those issues about an imperfect deal, and we all know it’s an imperfect deal, but when anybody asks me, I simply answer them this: there are people today who are walking about our streets, breathing, raising a family, who would not be had we not had the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

“That’s the simple fact – there would be thousands more dead.”

Paying tribute to the late Mr Trimble, he said: “At times sometimes I think people forget that were it not for his courage of his convictions, his love for his country, his love for his people to move things forward, we would never have had the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”