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Bertie Ahern says EU membership has 'never been more necessary than at this time'

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern outside the Riddel Hall in Belfast on Tuesday to headline Queen's Spring Festival of Events 2016.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said membership of the European Union has never been "more necessary" than it is at this time.

Mr Ahern was speaking at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ISCTSJ) , spring festival at Queen's university on Tuesday.

His lecture closed the festival, last week First Minister Arlene Foster gave a talk on women's influence in leadership and peace building.

Speaking to a packed audience at the university's Riddle Hall about his role during the political negotiations Mr Ahern said; "Peace has changed Ireland, north and south, for the better and we are increasingly moving towards a new era of progressive politics that will consign to the dustbin of history the sectarian and territorial disputes of the past.

"The island of Ireland has known many darks days and unfortunately our relations with Britain have often been controversial and stained by blood.

"In our modern history, Northern Ireland hovered on the brink of all-out civil war. Terrorism, atrocities, shootings, punishment beatings, bombings, murder and mayhem were a depressingly frequent everyday reality".

And Mr Ahern praised former prime minister Tony Blair saying: "I was privileged to play a part in that during my period of almost eleven years as Taoiseach.

"But that better way could also not have been found without the efforts and integrity of Tony Blair.

"Can I say here, without straying into British domestic politics, that it is my belief that Tony Blair was a fantastic Prime Minister and someone who made an unprecedented contribution to solving the centuries-old conflict between Britain and Ireland".

And in a call for a remain vote in the up and coming referendum Mr Ahearn said "we have grown closer through our work together at European Union level, where for over forty-three years now, Irish and British Ministers and civil servants have worked intensively together and with our partners across the range of issues on the EU agenda.

"The collective strength that membership of the European Union brings to all of us has never been more necessary than at this time, as the world economy emerges from global economic and financial turmoil.

"We have seen that countries cannot face such storms alone, and this is true whether they are large or small.

"The EU does need to be modernised and it does need to change, but that is something that political leaders in Belfast, Dublin and London should be working together on", he added.

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