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Brexit impasse: Northern Ireland not same as rest of UK, says Bertie Ahern - 'Belfast not same as Finchley'

Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach, giving evidence to the Exiting the European Union Committee in the House of Commons in London. Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire.
Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach, giving evidence to the Exiting the European Union Committee in the House of Commons in London. Photo credit: House of Commons/PA Wire.

By Gareth Cross

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that Northern Ireland is not the same as the rest of the UK and should not be treated as such in Brexit negotiations.

Mr Ahern was speaking while giving evidence before Westminster's Exiting the European Union Committee on Wednesday morning.

The former Fianna Fail leader was one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement and told the committee that the agreement meant Northern Ireland could not be treated the same as the rest of the UK.

Mr Ahern said that Belfast was not the same as Finchley and took aim at MPs who had suggested it.

"The Good Friday Agreement resolved the constitutional issue in Northern Ireland on the basis of consent," he told the committee.

"Sometimes when I hear people, including some distinguished members of Parliament, talking loudly over the past few years of no basis for any divergence of any kind between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, I look to wondering if I'd turned into Rip Van Winkle, the great man from the legend who fell asleep for 20 years and woke up and found everything changed."

The ex-Irish leader said that the Good Friday Agreement recognised the difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

"The reality is when I changed the constitutional position of Articles 2 and 3 (the Republic of Ireland's claim to Northern Ireland), I said there was a difference between Dublin and Belfast. I also said there was a difference between Belfast and Finchley.

"The argument that the UK, Northern Ireland, is precisely the same as Finchley is incorrect. It's constitutionally incorrect as per the Good Friday Agreement.

"I think people need to understand that."

Mr Ahern said that the Good Friday Agreement was not a "winner takes all scenario".

He told the committee that in the end "majority will rule", but that parity of esteem was key to the agreement and that both communities must be treated equally.

Bringing a border poll into the middle of this, in my view, is irresponsible. Bertie Ahern

Mr Ahern said that Brexit had brought the issue of a border poll "back into focus" but said he felt strongly that having a border poll in the foreseeable future would be "irresponsible".

"Until the institutions in Northern Ireland are properly set up again and functioning for a prolonged period it would be the wrong thing to do," the former Taoiseach said. 

"What I want to see is the Brexit issue dealt with, then the effort to reengage the parties on all sides to get the institutions up and running.

"Bringing a border poll into the middle of this, in my view, is irresponsible."

Mr Ahern said that he believed Brexit was stopping the return of the Stormont Assembly.

The former Taoiseach laughed off suggestions that the Republic of Ireland might be willing to rejoin the UK.

When asked how people in Ireland would take the invitation, "not very well," Mr Ahern replied.

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