Ahern: UK Tories ′upped the ante′ over future of Good Friday deal | Political interviews by Tim Sebastian & Michel Friedman | DW | 19.04.2018
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Conflict Zone

Ahern: UK Tories 'upped the ante' over future of Good Friday deal

After 20 years of the Good Friday deal, peace in Northern Ireland remains fragile. Former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern says cool heads are needed - but walked out over questions on the scandal that ended his tenure.

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Bertie Ahern on Conflict Zone

When most Northern Irish parties, along with the United Kingdom and Irish governments, signed the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998, it signaled an end to the decades of sectarian conflict in which more than 3500 people were killed.

Bertie Ahern, as the then Irish prime minister, was one of the leaders who signed the peace agreement 20 years ago. He joined Tim Sebastian on DW's Conflict Zone to discuss the current fragile state of the peace process.

While the landmark Good Friday deal would eventually lead to Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists sharing power, progress has stalled. Northern Ireland has been without a government since the administration collapsed in January 2017 and Brexit has caused huge uncertainty over the future of its border with the Republic of Ireland to the south.

Bertie Ahern (picture-alliance/dpa)

"I have dealt with all those issues comprehensively. I'm not dealing with them again," Ahern told Tim Sebastian on the public inquiry which said Ahern had failed to "truthfully account" for a number of payments in his account while in office. It did not accuse him of corruption

But when the discussion turned to the financial scandal that ended Ahern's tenure as prime minister, he was unwilling to engage and cut the interview short.

Ahern for President?

Having resigned in 2008 following allegations of financial impropriety, recent comments by Ahern suggest he might be prepared to fight another election, this time as an independent candidate for Irish president.

Resignation from his party, Fianna Fail, came in 2012 following the final report of the Mahon Tribunal, set up to investigate suspect payments to politicians and officials connected to land deals in Dublin.

Thetribunal ruledAhern had taken secret payments totaling 210,000 euros while in office but did not find him guilty of corruption.

On Conflict Zone, Ahern told Tim Sebastian he was satisfied he had cleared his name and questions on the issue were for "another day". When Sebastian mentioned the tribunal again a few seconds later, Ahern ended the interview.

Dangerous games

The interview began, however, with the possibility of a united Ireland. In 1998, Ahern agreed there was an "irresistible dynamic" leading to Irish unification. Had he got carried away in the moment?

"It'll happen [unification] but irresistible would be certainly too strong a word to be to be using," he said.

In April last year, Ahern warned those pushing for a referendum on unifying the north and south in the near future were playing a "dangerous game".

Nordirland Friedenslinien in Belfast (picture-alliance/empics/P. Faith)

Many so-called "peace walls" still divide communities across Northern Ireland

"I think to push a border poll in the short term – it's not the result because I think I know what the result would be, it'd be rejected – but it would be the antagonism and animosities that the campaign would generate and everything around it would set things back when we're trying to get things to work. So I think definitely it is not the thing to be doing," said Ahern.

'Upped the ante'

But on the question of politicians using Brexit to undermine the United Kingdom in Ireland, Ahern said it was British Tories, such as Owen Paterson, who had "upped the ante big time" and were causing tensions.

"They're being very, very unhelpful in trying to say that the Good Friday Agreement is not meaningful anymore, that it is not useful, and that it is creating difficulties and that if it wasn't there we'd have an easier Brexit," said Ahern.

Paterson, a former UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland, recently criticized opponents of Brexit for "weaponising the Irish border issue", but drew criticism himself for sharing an article on Twitter which claimed the Good Friday Agreement had "run its course".

On Theresa May, Ahern said that he would be "her first supporter" if she showed consistency over the north-south border after Brexit, and was cool over recent assurances reiterated by the British Ambassador to the US.

"Yeah, well I mean, let's see if they stick to that. […] We've had 800 years of British misrule. We don't trust them very well and we never did. We got the Good Friday Agreement, which we want to implement. So when the British government say something, we like to see it done," said Ahern.

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