Blair and Ahern urge governments to end NI impasse

Belfast Agreement 20 years on: Bill Clinton warns ‘paralysis’ cannot go on indefinitely without endangering agreement

Former US president Bill Clinton called on Northern politicians to follow the example of their predecessors and make compromises to allow the power-sharing institutions to be restored. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Former US president Bill Clinton called on Northern politicians to follow the example of their predecessors and make compromises to allow the power-sharing institutions to be restored. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The British and Irish governments have been urged to devote greater energy to resolving the impasse in Northern Ireland by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British prime minister Tony Blair, architects of the Belfast Agreement signed 20 years ago today.

Both men said difficulties in resuscitating the power-sharing institutions could be overcome with more effort and focus, in separate interviews with The Irish Times to mark the agreement’s anniversary.

Meanwhile, speaking at University College Dublin, former US president Bill Clinton warned that the present “paralysis” in the power-sharing institutions had a limit and could not go on indefinitely without endangering the settlement. He appealed to politicians in the North to “compromise” to find a way forward.

‘Total commitment’

Mr Ahern said: “If the two governments at top level give it total commitment I believe a deal can be done quickly.

I know they have other big issues to deal with, notably Brexit, but that is not an excuse for not devoting all the time and energy required to the North

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t be done between now and the end of May if the will is there.”

Mr Ahern said all the main political players in Dublin, London and Belfast were relatively new to their jobs, but that this meant that “Leo Varadkar and Theresa May have to get stuck in and work very hard to bring it all together”.

“I know they have other big issues to deal with, notably Brexit, but that is not an excuse for not devoting all the time and energy required to the North,” Mr Ahern said.

Echoing Mr Ahern’s views, Mr Blair said that difficulties between the Northern parties could be resolved and the power-sharing institutions could be restored with “more focus and work” by politicians.

However, Mr Blair also said that voters in the North must demand that their representatives work the mechanisms of the agreement.

In the end you have to be willing to give. Compromise has to be a good thing, not a dirty word

“At the end of the day, the people of Northern Ireland have to stand up for this agreement at a certain point. They will also exert electoral pressure on the parties,” he said.

“They have to make clear to their political leaders from whatever party they want them to find a way through this impasse and the agreement moving forward again. And the moderate parties will be the ones who are advocating this.”

Compromises

Mr Clinton called on Northern politicians to follow the example of their predecessors and make compromises to allow the power-sharing institutions to be restored.

“In the end you have to be willing to give. Compromise has to be a good thing, not a dirty word,” Mr Clinton said. “And voters have to stop punishing the politicians who make those compromises and start rewarding them.”

He was speaking at the Clinton Institute in UCD, set up to mark the former US president’s contribution to the peace process.

The three men will travel to Belfast on Tuesday evening for an event at Queen’s University where they will join the former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks in 1998, in a discussion about the agreement and its future.

Meanwhile, three loyalist paramilitary groups, The Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando, yesterday issued a “declaration of transformation” on Monday, their first joint statement since the loyalist ceasefire in 1994, which suggests any members involved in crime will be expelled.

“We fully support the rule of law in all areas of life and emphatically condemn all forms of criminal activity,” the statement said.