herald

Tuesday 23 October 2018

'A Border, hard, soft or sunny side up would be a disaster,' says Bertie

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern said that Irish Government ministers are struggling to communicate with their counterparts in Northern Ireland since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Ahern, who was speaking to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at Dublin City University, said the breakdown in communications due to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly a year ago, was not acceptable.

"I know from talking to Irish Government ministers, that there are many issues they want to talk to northern colleagues about but they have no one to talk to," Mr Ahern said.

"It's not fair to the people of Northern Ireland and it's not what the Good Friday Agreement is about."

All sides needed to "work and make society better," Mr Ahern said. "To do that, you need engagement and that's missing at the moment."

The former Taoiseach told the seminar that despite the challenges of Brexit and the "distraction" it was causing the British Government, no one has the "right to undo" the Good Friday Agreement and that a Northern Irish border "hard, soft or sunny side up" would be a "disaster".

He said the Good Friday Agreement had been long fought for with "human politics" involving all sides and a border "would upset everyone on the island of Ireland".

"It would be a travesty for everyone," he said.

"We don't want any border, it's a frictionless border where we can drive freely on this island."

Mr Ahern said he "failed to understand the logic of British negotiators" regarding Brexit and its view on the customs union, stating that when Britain leaves the EU, trade deals will be very difficult.

"What country will give a trade deal to a country of 80 million people?" he said.

Stupid

"That's not better than a trade deal with 450 million people (in the EU).

"I don't get that and I don't know of any country stupid enough to do that when they have an agreement with 450 million.

"They (the UK Government) will have to send Boris (Johnson) round the world several times to do deals with that logic..."

One of the only regrets Mr Ahern said he had regarding the Good Friday Agreement was that decommissioning of weapons in Northern Ireland took nine years. But, still today, the Agreement, was the best solution for the peace process.

No good was coming from a division in the Northern Ireland Assembly and all it proved was that the peace process was ongoing, he said.

When asked by members of the audience at the university if there was any way the Northern Irish agreement could be a road map for the Palestine-Israeli conflict to reach resolution in future, Mr Ahern said he didn't believe so because both sides were still proportioning blame.

"I've been to the Middle East a number of times," Mr Ahern said. "What I always say to the groups there is I believe the first thing before you start (talks) is there has to be a broad acceptance that the status quo is untenable.

"If people are not prepared to accept the status quo is untenable, then speaking about a peace process is useless".

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