'You wouldn’t have to wait too long': Former Taoisigh Ahern and Bruton warn of violence if 'hard Brexit' revives border
Two former Taoisigh, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern, have each warned of the risk of violence if Brexit causes a return of the border in Ireland.
Bertie Ahern, who was Taoiseach from 1997 until 2008, said the Irish Government must secure a border deal well in advance of an EU leaders’ summit next October which will sign off on a UK 'Withdrawal Agreement'.
Mr Ahern said he had engaged in EU negotiations at all levels over 20 years.
He warned that if the border remains outstanding until the last minute – the Taoiseach would come under enormous pressure to compromise to save the bigger EU-UK €50bn settlement.
"That’s how it works, that’s the way it always worked," Mr Ahern said.
The two former leaders were part of a discussion on 'Brexit, Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement' at the Mansion House in Dublin. They were joined by another former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, who stressed the importance of EU support for the Northern Ireland peace process and the need for this to continue.
On the potential threat of violence, John Bruton, who was Taoiseach from 1994 until 1997, said some form of border control must be put in place if Britain leaves both the EU customs union and single market.
"We know from history that the existence of border posts symbolises the partition of the country – something many people find hard to accept," he said.
The former Fine Gael leader said the return of border controls would increase the potential for smuggling which was closely related to paramilitary activity and criminality.
Mr Ahern, leader of Fianna Fáil from 1994 until 2008, said there would be no delay on the return to violence if border controls emerged from Brexit.
"You wouldn’t have to wait too long for violence. The communities on both sides of the border would tear it down with their bare hands," Mr Ahern said.
The seminar will also hear from former EU Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, and Catherine Day a former EU Commission secretary general.