Border assurances ‘do not stand up’, says Bertie Ahern

Former taoiseach dismisses Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers’s comments

Bertie Ahern at Queen’s University Belfast. “A Brexit would be an obstacle to the cross-Border economic co-operation that is profoundly benefiting both states on this island.” Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Bertie Ahern at Queen’s University Belfast. “A Brexit would be an obstacle to the cross-Border economic co-operation that is profoundly benefiting both states on this island.” Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

 

Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers’s assurances about free movement between Britain and the Republic continuing unaffected if Britain leaves the EU “do not stand up one bit”, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said.

His remarks came after former PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde said Ms Villiers “continues to keep her head firmly stuck in a peat bog”.

“If you shut the front door [to immigration into the UK], leaving the back door open would be stupid,” he said this week.

Ms Villiers last month said she could see “no reason” why the Irish/UK Common Travel Area, allowing free movement for Irish citizens, would not continue.

Mr Ahern said this did not stand up to scrutiny and was inconsistent with one of the main arguments being made by those advocating that Britain should leave the EU – that immigration was too high and a Brexit would help the UK take back control of its borders.

He told The Irish Times that while there might be “this idea that there would be one checkpoint at Newry”, he pointed out there were actually 200 roads crossing from the Republic into Northern Ireland. “What she is saying doesn’t stand up one inch,” he said.

Force of good

Mr Ahern was in Belfast last night to deliver a speech at Queen’s University. It largely focused on the peace process but, at its conclusion, he said he believed “it is important for me to emphasise as a former president of the European Union that the EU remains a force for good in global affairs”.

He said that he would “always be pleased” that Ireland led the way “during my time as taoiseach in bringing to an end forever that traumatic and painful chapter in our shared European history”.

Europe, ripped apart in the 1930s and 1940s, was rejoined during Ireland’s presidency on 1st May, 2004.

“On that brilliant day, in my native city, Dublin, 10 new members formally joined the European Union. A free and democratic European Union now stretches from the beautiful west coast of Ireland, where the locals say that the next parish is America, to countries with a land frontier with Russia and Ukraine. As we look to the future, I passionately believe that Northern Ireland’s future is best served within the European Union.”

Bad economics

He said the EU was the largest trading bloc in the world, adding it “is simply bad economics that will cost jobs and investment throughout Northern Ireland if a Brexit occurs”.

He added: “The EU does need to be modernised and it does need to change, but that is something that political leaders in Belfast, Dublin and London should be working together on. What Europe really needs is fundamental EU-wide reform, not a UK departure.

“A Brexit would be an obstacle to the cross-Border economic co-operation that is profoundly benefiting both states on this island. It would also hugely damage trade and investment North and South.

“The stark reality is that those campaigning for a Brexit are asking people to swap the benefits of membership of a single market with 500 million people in which Northern Ireland is now thriving for an uncertain future, where free trade will be curtailed and where new tariffs will undermine the competitiveness of Northern Irish exports.”