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Bertie Ahern blames the Troubles for Ireland’s economic woes in previous decades

Outside investors did not distinguish between North and South, tourism conference heard

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed the Troubles was the main reason the Republic was held back economically for so long.

Mr Ahern said the public cannot understand the Irish economy of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s without understanding the impact that the Troubles had on the State.

“It’s the reason why we had 20 per cent unemployment, no investment and why we didn’t have two coppers to make ends meet,” he said.

Mr Ahern recalled that when he went on a road show as minister for labour and finance between 1987 and 1991 to the United States, the “first question out of the mouth” of potential investors was “how is the Troubles going?”


He told an Irish Tourism Industry Confederation conference in Athlone that it had a detrimental impact on investors. “That was predominantly because of the Troubles. There was no point in saying Dublin was a long way from Belfast and Derry was a long way from Athlone. That held us back. The reason why we no longer have the days of 20 per cent unemployment, emigration and no big tourism industries is because this island got rid of violence and long may that last.”

He said there needed to be greater education about the Troubles and people need to know why 3,700 people were killed in the conflict.

He said all the pre-election talk of who would be going into government with whom after the next election should be taken with a “pinch of salt”, including the claim that Fine Gael would never go into government with Sinn Féin. John Bruton said he would never go into government with the Democratic Left until he did just that in 1997.

There was no chance of an overall majority for Sinn Féin, Mr Ahern added, and even the chances of forming a left-wing government with like-minded parties is slim. There was a possibility of the present government being elected, but they may need the support of independents to stay in power.

Mr Ahern said he had a conversation with Joe Kennedy, president Biden’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, last weekend. Mr Kennedy told him that the chief executives of 30 major US companies are prepared to come to Northern Ireland with a view to investing in a place that has unique access to the UK and European Union markets.

Mr Ahern reported Mr Kennedy as having said to him, “‘What can I say to them if they want to meet members of the government?’ I told he would have to be honest about it.

“The stop-start nature over the last decade has really affected things. We could make far more progress if we got over that.”

There was an absence of the type of courage shown by unionist leaders David Trimble and Ian Paisley among the newer generation of unionist leaders, he told delegates. Mr Trimble and Mr Paisley had faced down opposition within their own community to doing a deal with nationalists.

He believed unionists will understand that “they [the people of Britain] don’t really care about them. Some day they will have to realise that Athlone would be a better place to deal with than No 10.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times