Belfast Telegraph

Compromise or you'll repeat mistakes of history: Bertie Ahern's message to Northern Ireland political leaders

By Jonathan Bell

Former Taoiseach and architect of the Good Friday Agreement has warned Northern Ireland politicians they should compromise or they face repeating the mistakes of the past.

Mr Ahern was speaking on the BBC Stephen Nolan show on Friday morning. He said it was imperative the devolved institutions were up and running again ahead of the anniversary of the historic 1998 peace accord.

He said direct rule could not be a long term option.

"At the minute there are nine civil servants - and I am sure they are doing the best - running Northern Ireland but it is not sustainable," he said.

"And it is not fair on the people of Northern Ireland."

It is not tenable in a democratic society to have your entire institutions - not unworkable but not in existence for an entire year.

The former Irish premier's comments come after a new round of talks was announced, the last chance, the secretary of state said.

Speaking of the current crop of political leaders, Mr Ahern said: "The challenge for them is not to be prisoners of the past, not to find themselves tied to the past.

"And to see what their objective is for a continually peaceful, stable but futuristic Northern Ireland ... it is for them to take on the work that we did all those years ago and to build a new agenda.

"Politics is about the art of compromise.

"It is about people sitting down and seeing do they want the status quo, are they happy to allow the past to recreate itself or do they want to roll up their sleeves and get on with it?

"They should look at what the key items they want achieved is and to look imaginatively at where the compromises are.

"Northern Ireland needs political leadership and there is an onus on them to compromise and to move forward."

One person's equality is another person's torment... Going back to the small print in 1998 is not what people should be doing

Mr Ahern said an Irish language act was never "set in stone" in the 1998 agreement.

"Twenty years ago the whole issue was about equality, but like all these things they have to be negotiated," he added.

"The whole system was based on it being a divided society and having everyone working together - that's why it was first and deputy first ministers, it was two people working together to find practical solutions.

"I know one person's equality is another person's torment but you have to try and crack the nuts and agree with them.

"Going back to the small print in 1998 is not what people should be doing."

Mr Ahern said what was agreed in the Good Friday Agreement was that people's identities would be promoted.

"There was an understanding Irish language would play a key role but we never anywhere prescripted or wrote out what that was going to be and I don't think it happened in any subsequent agreements anywhere.

"What was not agreed was that we would start putting Irish language signs down the Shankill.

"Of course the Irish language should be treated with equality, as too should Ulster Scots if that is important to the unionist people, the same with the legacy of the past. These are important but people have to look at it going forward not backwards."

He added: "The mindset should be to make this workable - to do their level best before the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"If that fails again then the east/west situation has to click in and the Dublin and London government have to sit down and work a way forward."

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