'No hard border in Ireland in our lifetimes' ex-taoiseach tells Newry dinner
FORMER taoiseach Bertie Ahern told a Brexit-fatigued Newry business audience: "I genuinely believe there will not be a hard border in Ireland in our lifetimes”.
He also said: "Brexit is bad for Ireland, bad for the UK and bad for the EU, but in the situation we find ourselves in, we must all do our best to protect everything that has been achieved in the past decades and make sure the particular interests of this island, north and south, are protected."
Mr Ahern, who was the Republic's premier from 1997 to 2008, was addressing 300 guests at the Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade's annual president's dinner.
He fulfilled the long-standing engagement despite Paddy Duffy, one of his closest advisers and friends, having died in London the previous day while preparing to board a flight from Heathrow to Dublin, having just returned from Papau New Guinea with the ex-taoiseach.
While Mr Ahern's address focused primarily on Brexit, he also touched on the lack of a Stormont government, which he said was “appalling, pathetic and sad”, and he labelled the actions of some of the political parties as “Banana Republic stuff”.
"It would be my hope that the institutions get back up and running and working for all the people of Northern Ireland, because their current absence cannot be underestimated in terms of seriousness," he said.
"The devolved institutions are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and the only way forward for Northern Ireland.
"The Executive and Assembly are urgently required to be the voice for Northern Ireland in dealing with the challenges of Brexit. Continuing divisions between communities here still need to be addressed."
Praising the work of the Newry Chamber, he said: "You and the companies you represent have been to the forefront in promoting and supporting north-south cooperation and you understand the benefits, potential and challenges across all your sectors.
"Your advocacy work has also been enormously important and influential in growing north-south connections and developing the all-island economy.
"North-south economic and social cooperation has benefited people across the island, and supported the development of an all-island economy that has enhanced the prosperity of all.
"Protecting these gains is not just about ensuring frictionless trade; it is also about facilitating peoples' lives and livelihoods. Fundamentally, this is about peace, reconciliation and prosperity."
Mr Ahern the Irish Government remains adhered to the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts.
He said: "At the heart of this is the invisible border, which in some ways is the most obviously tangible symbol of the peace process.
"It has allowed relationships and communities to be rebuilt following years of conflict. It has allowed social, political and commercial relationships to flourish and thrive across Ireland.
"The issues are well-known to all of us. The solutions at this stage might not seem as clear as we would like. But I do believe that we are closer now and that a deal does appear to be in sight."