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Bertie Ahern: Republic of Ireland has 'every right' to negotiate with UK during Brexit talks

By Colm Kelpie

The Republic of Ireland has every right to conduct bilateral talks with the United Kingdom on non-trade issues during the Brexit negotiations, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said.

He claimed key EU officials like Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier agree.

Mr Ahern also said the last thing he wanted out of Brexit was a border poll, adding having a “sectarian headcount” was the last thing to do.

“The last thing I want out of Brexit, the last thing, is people on about border polls,” Mr Ahern told the Seanad Brexit select committee.

“The only time that we should have a border poll in my view, and I’ll argue this for the rest of my life, is when we’re in a situation that the nationalists and republicans, and a respectable, sizeable amount of unionists/loyalists, are in favour, on the basis of consent.”

Mr Ahern also said he believed the customs border post Brexit should be in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Britain, not between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The former Taoiseach argued that under the Good Friday Agreement Ireland had the right to hold bilateral talks with the British on non-trade issues.

“The reality is it's an international agreement and we have every right, every right, to bilaterally negotiate, not the trade issues, but on the other issues to be able to negotiate with the British. I don’t accept the argument that we’re precluded on those issues,” Mr Ahern said.

“I know Guy Verhofstadt, I know Michel Barnier, I know Jean Claude Juncker,  I’ve dealt with these guys for 20 years, they don’t have a different view. The strength of our argument on the non trade issues is that the Good Friday Agreement allows it.”

Mr Ahern said he believed the British were “deluding themselves” that they’re going to be able to strike great trade deals with the rest of the world post Brexit.

Meanwhile, Retail Excellence Ireland has told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Good Friday Agreement that the leaking of huge amounts of shoppers over the border is hurting Ireland and its businesses.

The organisation also called for a "Brexit proof" budget to be implemented from next year as well a reduction in VAT to allow Irish retailers to compete with the UK.

It also recommended a north-south retail forum should be set up by the Government to mitigate the effects of Brexit.

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