EX-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned that gains made by the peace process on the island of Ireland are being put in jeopardy by Britain due to its stance over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking at the launch for Albert Reynolds, Risk Taker for Peace, written by former Fianna Fáil TD and minister, Conor Lenihan, Mr Ahern said that many of the themes in the book remain relevant today.
Particularly the need for practical negotiations between the UK and the EU over the withdrawal agreement.
A successful businessman before entering the political arena, Reynolds’ business-like manner and straight forward negotiating style enabled him to “thrash it with the best of them”, Mr Ahern said.
He said it “came to huge benefit” particularly when negotiating EU grants amounting to €1.2bn per year in the decade from 1989 to 1999.
Calling for a revival of this spirit in the political wrangling over Article 16 of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, Mr Ahern said: “Dublin and London need to reunite with a sense of common purpose in the relationship, but also a moral renewal of the concept of practical reconciliation”.
His criticism was reserved exclusively for the British side.
Rebuking what he sees as its inflexibility over the Northern Ireland protocol, Mr Ahern said the UK has been unwilling to compromise despite multiple EU concessions.
The former Taoiseach and champion of the peace process warned of a “foreboding sense that some of the gains we’ve made in recent decades are being squandered, and that there are some people that don’t understand them on the British side.
“Endless squabbles, whether it was over the formation of the executive that went on for years, or now the Northern Ireland Protocol, now need to be brought to a swift end.
“I think the heads of government need to take a shared lead on this issue”.
Mr Ahern was keen to stress the historical significance of the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, negotiated between Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major, as opposed to the earlier Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 agreed between Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher.
He said: “There is a story often put forward, which is done in a very orchestrated way, that it was the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 that was the key [to future negotiations].
“That is just not true.”
Mr Ahern said: “If you mentioned the Anglo Irish Agreement to unionists they walked out.
“If you mentioned it to the DUP they ran out, to republicans and to loyalists they attacked you, and SDLP supported it.
“Fianna Fáil did not, and it had its differences over that."
He went on to say: “During my time, when we were in negotiations, it was never the Anglo Irish Agreement, it was always the Downing Street Declaration and the subsequent framework document."
“Just for the historical record while I still have breath in the body to say it", Mr Ahern said in an exasperated tone.
“That’s not to take anything from those involved in 1985, but the reality was, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was never mentioned in the room”, he concluded.
Touching on the fast-changing times during which Reynolds was in office, Mr Ahern described the radical overhaul to the Irish economy that his predecessor helped to deliver.
In the early 90’s there were no mobile phones in Ireland, and the country had a workforce of under 900 thousand – whereas today the number stands at 2.25 million, in “jobs of far higher standards”, Mr Ahern said, adding that Mr Reynolds paved the way for many of these developments.
Despite their disagreements, some of which are rehashed in the book, Mr Ahern praised Mr Reynolds for promoting a more decent brand of politics than is commonly practiced today.
He said: “We were warned [by Reynolds] not to go out and say negative things about people in other parties, I wish that was contagious and had carried on to today.
“It wasn’t for political reasons, it was genuinely because he thought people needed a break”.
The book is £17.70 and can be found on Amazon here.