Bertie Ahern says lack of Dublin/Belfast Brexit plan 'extraordinary'

Belfast politicians must reach “necessary compromises”, former taoiseach declares

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Government and the Northern Ireland Executive must urgently start to meet to prepare the island for the challenges that will be caused by Brexit, former taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has said.

Saying that it is “absolutely extraordinary” that meetings are not taking place, Mr Ahern: “They need to be working together, to work through the problems that are going to massively affect the whole island but in particular the people of Northern Ireland, ” he told a Brexit meeting in Co Cavan last night.

Speaking in Cavan last night, he complained: “There are no meetings taking place, it’s absolutely extraordinary because anywhere else in the world where you need your parliament, your government, the cooperation with other countries there are no meetings taking place. It is absolutely extraordinary.”

He called on politicians in Northern Ireland to break the Stormont deadlock and “get back to doing the job they are paid for and elected to do.”

Urging Northern Ireland politicians to find a way to restore the Executive and the Stormont Assembly, Ahern, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, said it saddened him to see the power-sharing institutions at a logjam and appealed to political leaders to find “necessary compromises.”

“Over the summer period they have to reflect on what is most important. Is it the future, economy, trade, people, capital goods, infrastructure, what is the most important? For God’s sake, we want them back doing the job they are paid for and elected to do,” he said.

Ireland has “missed the boat” in failing to engage with the UK directly before Brexit negotiations with the EU negotiator Michel Barnier began, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said last night .

Mr Ahern’s comments came ahead of a packed public meeting on Brexit in Co Cavan: “For the next year it is left to trying to influence him, and his team. That’s the challenge we face as a country,” he said.

Ireland is facing a period of great difficulty and must protect its own interests: “We are a small island in a big bowl, but we have to fight for every inch,” Mr Ahern declared.

Dismissing London’s hopes of quickly-negotiated, successful free trade deals, Mr Ahern said: “Trump says they’ll do a good deal but you know what that means; it will be a deal where it’ll be sold out, if it’s quick deal it’ll be a bad deal. The big danger with the beef is they’ll go to Australia or New Zealand and that’s where the real danger is for us,” he said.

Saying that there are very few positives about Brexit, stating: “On the advantages I think we all agree it’s a deficit, it’s a negative. They made a democratic decision and we have to live with that decision. It won’t go away for us.

“I don’t think anyone including the Treasury or the Foreign office had a plan B, even Boris [JOHNSON]and these guys who were blustering away in the campaign, changing their tune every day and saying whatever was on top of their heads about the national health. In fairness to them they didn’t think they were going to win.”

There is “no hope” that the United Kingdom can reach a comprehensive agreement” by March 2019: “It’s not going to be done, it’s not humanly possible. What we need to be homing in on is how the transitional arrangement is going to work, how that’s going to play out.”

He said he has not “heard a word being said” by the Fine Gael led government about the transitional period leading up to Brexit. “We should not wait until it happens, we need to be seeing how that will affect us; how’s it going to affect our trade, the single market, customs,” he said.

The size of the crowd at the Hotel Kilmore meeting in Cavan reflected mounting concern along the Border about the effects Brexit could have, said Cavan-Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith.

Two years ago, he said he had organised a meeting about the potential effects a UK referendum on EU membership could have, but it was attended by few. Now, he said, the “penny is dropping”.

“People living in this region have enjoyed free movement across the Border as a direct result of the peace process and it is vitally important these freedoms for the country, for business and communities, are maintained.”