Belfast Telegraph

North-South communication has broken down, warns Ahern

By Laura Lynott

Irish Government ministers are struggling to communicate with their counterparts in Northern Ireland since the collapse of the Stormont Assembly despite the looming threat of Brexit, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.

Mr Ahern, who was speaking to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at an event at Dublin City University (DCU) yesterday, said the breakdown in communications 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 added.

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

He said that despite the challenges of Brexit and the "distraction" it was causing the UK Government, no one had the right to "undo" the Good Friday Agreement and stressed 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.

Mr Ahern also insisted that 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 the customs union, stating that when the UK leaves the EU, agreeing trade deals will be very difficult.

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

Reflecting on the Good Friday Agreement some 20 years later, Mr Ahern said one of his only regrets was that the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons took nine years.

When asked by members of the audience whether he thought there was any way that peace here could act as a roadmap to a similar settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Mr Ahern responded that he did not believe so because both sides were still locked in blaming each other.

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

"We have to break it down (so) there's no blame.

"If we really want a peace process to work, you have to give peace a really good chance.

"You have to be as inclusive and as comprehensive as possible."

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