The DUP has accused former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of “talking nonsense” after he denied that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has established a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Speaking on RTE’s The Week in Politics, the veteran politician said: “Let’s be honest: there is no border down the Irish Sea. What there is, is a few customs checks.”
Mr Ahern — who signed the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Irish Government— told the programme that the issues around the NI Protocol had been “overplayed”.
“Brexit hasn’t changed the constitutional position,” he said.
“Under the consent principle, the only way Northern Ireland changes its constitutional status is by the will of the people.”
But the former Fianna Fail leader warned: “We’re going to have a difficult summer, one way or the other.”
He also hit out at the DUP, who he said should have backed former PM Theresa May’s plan to keep the whole the UK in the EU’s Single Market.
“I have to say to the DUP, they rejected Theresa May’s deal. Theresa May’s deal was the answer to all these problems,” he said.
He called on the DUP to compromise on its anti-Protocol position.
“Theresa May’s deal was that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would have stayed in the Single Market and there wouldn’t have been any difficulties. The Protocol is here to say,” Mr Ahern said.
Last night the DUP hit back at the comments, with junior minister Gordon Lyons telling the Belfast Telegraph that “Bertie is talking nonsense”.
“Theresa May’s proposal would have also led to a border between NI and GB,” he said.
“The Protocol was foisted on Northern Ireland despite all unionist parties being opposed to it.
“Both London and Brussels must understand the delicate balance in Northern Ireland and recognise that enduring progress is only made when they actually honour the agreements affecting Northern Ireland and the need for the east/west relationship to be treated at least as favourably as the north/south one.
“The decision to press ahead without unionist support has fractured relationships and been at the root of instability.
“There must be a fundamental change of approach.
“For Bertie to take such a flippant approach to trade barriers between one part of UK and another speaks volumes about his respect for unionists,” the former Stormont Agriculture Minister said.
Mr Ahern also criticised the UK Government over the absence of any top level meetings between the British and Irish government to discuss emerging issues.
“The last meeting was two years ago,” he said.
“There has been no meeting since Boris Johnson took power.
“They don’t even have a desk at Westminster dealing with these issues at the moment,” Mr Ahern told the programme.