Unification of Ireland based on consent an imperative, says Ahern


THE UNIFICATION of the Republic and Northern Ireland is an "imperative" and not an empty aspiration, according to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

He said the sooner the complex and challenging issue was addressed, "the sooner the reality will occur".

Mr Ahern was speaking at the launch of Countdown to Unity: Debating Irish Reunificationby Dr Richard Humphreys.

"As an Irish republican, I believe in a United Ireland. While we deleted the old articles 2 and 3, the republican and nationalist objective of Irish unity, based on consent, remains a fundamental feature of the political philosophy of our Constitution and of this State. It is no mere empty aspiration. It is an imperative."

He said: "I believe that the sooner we engage in the process of addressing Irish unity, in all its complexities, with all of its challenges, and the many opportunities it will present, the sooner the reality will occur."

Mr Ahern said the debate about Irish unity needed to be conducted on a "rational level". The ruling out of physical force to procure unification could not be an excuse for a failure of dialogue on the subject.

"Those of us who subscribe to the republican goal - of unity by consent - realise that we possess the burden of persuading a majority of the people of Northern Ireland of the merits of reunification." He said the Belfast Agreement should remain the basis for the governance of Northern Ireland, "pending Irish unity".

It was important to acknowledge the changed nature of the relationships between the State and Britain and between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the State's involvement with the UK in the EU had "removed many barriers that hitherto existed towards an agreed set of political structures for the government of the island of Ireland for the benefit of the people of the island of Ireland".

Mr Ahern said people in the Republic needed to reflect upon the many changes that would be required to ensure that those of the unionist or British tradition had their identity respected in a new political arrangement.

Documentary: Bertie not watching it

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he has not been watching the RTÉ series about him but has heard it is focusing "non- stop" on his financial affairs.

Mr Ahern said the documentary, Bertie, was supposed to have been a programme about his life.

"Funny enough, I've been around all day today and nobody's even mentioned the bloody thing to me. It's probably a huge turn-off. I don't know if anyone's watching it," he said.

Asked if he thought there was too much focus on his financial affairs, he said: "From what I pick up it's been non-stop, you know, that's the issue, but it's meant to be a programme on my life, and we'll see if it is, you know. I'll give my verdict at the end."

Mr Ahern said he was not going to watch the series until it had concluded. The final programme in the four-part documentary will be broadcast on Monday night. "I'm going to watch it at the end and I'm going to give my views on it then. I just listen to other people's views at this stage."

He said he had been told the programmes were "mixed". He believed many people had watched the first episode but he did not think this was the case last Monday when the third episode was broadcast. "I think last night they were watching the programme on another station, the New Zealand team of 30 years ago, and to be honest that's what I was watching."

Mr Ahern was speaking at a photocall in Dublin's Mansion House with broadcaster Hector Ó hEochagáin.