Sunday 13 October 2019

Brexiteers would do well to heed Ahern’s wisdom on the border


Our View

Since his political heyday Bertie Ahern has lost much of his lustre. Indeed, the man once known as the 'Teflon Taoiseach' has become something of a pariah figure even among members of his own party

While he had stepped aside before the effects of the 2008 banking crisis and the economic crash kicked in, leaving his anointed successor Brian Cowen to deal with the fallout, Ahern's stewardship of Ireland's dangerously overheated economy have led many to blame him, and his finance ministers, for much of what befell the nation.

Prior revelations about his personal finances obviously did his reputation no favours either.

For all that, there are few who would disagree that Ahern - widely regarded as one of Irish politics most skilful negotiators - had a positive impact on the country through his role in the peace process and the brokering of the 'Good Friday Agreement'.

There are few people with greater expertise of the complexities of the Irish border and it was for that reason that Mr Ahern last week found himself invited to address a sitting of the British parliament's mundanely title 'Exiting the European Union Committee'.

Mr Ahern's contribution was sage and well reasoned and he outlined in clear terms exactly how much of a risk Brexit poses to the fragile peace in the North.

It was not what the committee members wanted to hear but it was a message they desperately need to take in.

The hearing was not without its more humorous moments.

At one point Scottish Nationalist Party MP Peter Grant asked Mr Ahern for his take on some of the more ludicrous solutions that Brexiteers have suggested as a fix for the border impasse.

These include the notion that Ireland should just ignore its EU responsibilities and simply not protect the border; that Ireland should just leave the EU or that Ireland should 're-join' the UK .

"What's your impressions of how these various suggestions have been received by the people of Ireland?" asked Mr Grant

"Well, I'll just be kind and say not very well" was Mr Ahern's pithy but deadly accurate response.

Grant had previously suggested that the proposals - as absurdly out of step with reality as they are - have gained 'a degree of traction' in Westminster.

Hopefully Ahern's direct language and skilful shooting down of these demented suggestions might help some of the more deluded Brexiteers cop on to the realities of the situation. One can only hope.

Ahern's remarks certainly impressed Mr Grant who defended the former Taoiseach after an attack from the DUP's Sammy Wilson who claimed that Grant had never read the Belfast Agreement and that - deal or no deal - the North's institutions will be safe.

"I have read the Belfast Agreement and if it comes to any arguments about interpretation of it, with all due respect, I'd sooner take the interpretation the former Taoiseach who helped to write it than somebody who fought tooth and nail to reject it," was Mr Grant's withering response.

At least someone in Westminster is listening.

Enniscorthy Guardian