Sinn Féin and DUP ‘owe the people’ to restore NI Executive – Bertie Ahern

Former taoiseach says impasse is ‘appalling’ but ‘resolvable’ at Kilkenny Arts Festival event

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern:  “It’s feeding badly into the political system in the South, the political system in the North, and it’s poisoning the system in the North. There’s no winners in this, everyone is a loser.” File photograph: RollingNews.ie

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern: “It’s feeding badly into the political system in the South, the political system in the North, and it’s poisoning the system in the North. There’s no winners in this, everyone is a loser.” File photograph: RollingNews.ie

 

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has described as “depressing and disappointing” the ongoing impasse in Northern Irish politics which has prevented progress in devolved government since early last year.

However, Mr Ahern said that while the situation is “appalling”, it is still “resolvable” but could need intervention by an outside party.

He also said British politics is “not in a good place” at the moment, given the ongoing controversy over Brexit, but predicted that negotiation periods will be extended into at least 2020.

Mr Ahern was speaking during an event on Monday evening held by Kilkenny Arts Festival, when he was interviewed in public by broadcaster David Davin-Power. About 200 people attended the interview in St Canice’s Cathedral.

It’s just not good enough not to have the institutions up and running

“It’s depressing and it’s disappointing,” Mr Ahern said when asked about the Northern Ireland stalemate, “but I’m an optimist by nature so let’s stay optimistic. I think all parties on all sides, mainly the DUP and Sinn Féin, owe it to the electorate in the North, they owe it to the people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and they owe it to everybody on the island of Ireland, to get [the institutions] back up and running again.”

Signed off

He pointed out that there are rooms full of documents in Stormont which cannot be signed off on until the political institutions are working again.

“They cannot, if they have any conscience and respect for their electorate, allow that to continue to happen . . . It’s just not good enough not to have the institutions up and running, and it’s feeding badly into the relationship between the Irish Government and the British government, it’s feeding badly into the political system in the South, the political system in the North, and it’s poisoning the system in the North. There’s no winners in this, everyone is a loser.”

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill (l) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (r). File photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images
Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill (l) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster. File photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Asked if third-party intervention is needed, he said, with tongue in cheek, that “Kieran Mulvey is good at that” but added that “somebody needs to get in the middle of it” and that “it is an appalling situation, but it is resolvable”.

Without wishing the British any harm, Michel Barnier not trusting them or liking them is actually helpful in the negotiations

The former taoiseach described Brexit as “a huge and horrendous problem” and said that, in his view as someone who worked with people in British politics for 40 years, “it’s not in a good place, the relationships, from here anyway, don’t seem to be in a good place”.

He said “cows will fly” before negotiations are concluded by the next deadline in October and quoted reports suggesting that it will be 2020 before decisions are made on the UK’s place in the Customs Union.

“I don’t wish the British bad, I spent the last 20 years of my life dealing with the British government and making a lot of progress, but luckily [EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel] Barnier doesn’t like them and that’s quite helpful. Without wishing the British any harm, Michel Barnier not trusting them or liking them is actually helpful in the negotiations. He won’t roll over.”

‘Disappointed’

Mr Ahern had no comment to make on UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but said he was “disappointed” by Mr Corbyn’s party and their attitude to EU votes in parliament, particularly when they said they were in favour of the EU customs union but then voted with the Brexiteers.

Monday’s event at St Canice’s Cathedral was picketed by a small group of protesters who were against Kilkenny Arts Festival involving politicians in its programme. The group, holding a banner with the words “End corruption now” initially stood outside the cathedral itself but withdrew when asked to stay outside church grounds. Their banner was seized by a festival volunteer and they regained it when outside the gate.

“We’re just here to make a community protest in relation to ending corruption,” said protester Johnny Keenan. He said it was “an insult” that people should be charged €16 to attend an interview with Bertie Ahern. “It has nothing to do with art.” Mr Keenan was one of the organisers of a meeting on the effects of corruption on Irish society held on Monday night in St Canice’s Community Hall in Kilkenny.