Belfast Telegraph

Ahern warns over 'sectarian headcount' of border poll now

By Brian Hutton

Bertie Ahern has warned now is not the time for a border poll on Irish unity.

The former Taoiseach, who played a key role in the Good Friday Agreement, said a "sectarian headcount" in Northern Ireland is the last thing that is needed amid the fall-out of Brexit.

"The last thing I want out of Brexit, the very last thing, is anyone (going) on about border polls," he said.

"The only time we should have a border poll in my view, and I will argue this for the rest of my life, is when we are in situation where nationalists and republicans and a sizeable amount of unionists and loyalists are in consent. To have a sectarian headcount now is the last thing we need."

But Mr Ahern said the provision for Irish reunification, enshrined in the Good Friday peace deal, should be stitched into any Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

Speaking before a special Brexit committee of the Seanad, Dublin's upper house of parliament, he said those in favour of a united Ireland should continue to work towards a future time when a border poll would be appropriate.

He added: "This is not the time for it, there will be a time for it."

Mr Ahern also called for direct negotiations between London and Dublin on relations after Brexit.

The former Taoiseach said the 1998 Agreement allows bilateral talks between the countries on issues other than trade.

At present, Ireland will negotiate with Britain only as a member of the EU27 bloc.

Mr Ahern said European Union leaders - including Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker - do not disagree on the right for separate Anglo-Irish talks.

"It is an international agreement, and we have every right to bilaterally negotiate - not the trade issues, we accept that is the European Union - but on several of the other issues, to be able to negotiate with the British," he said.

"For the life of me, I don't understand why or accept the argument that we are precluded on those issues."

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