Northern Ireland news

Bertie Ahern credits younger voters with changing Ireland

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has spoken about how he became 'great friends' with the late Rev Ian Paisley

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said a merger between electoral rivals Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is "possible" in the future.

The two civil war parties are currently in a coalition with the Green Party, after agreeing a programme for government in June.

Speaking to the BBC's Talkback, Mr Ahern also said he also believed Stormont would eventually have a system of voluntary coalition.

The former Fianna Fáil leader, who served as taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, said a younger generation of voters on both sides of the border had influenced the huge shift in modern Irish politics.

"Young people are more educated now and people are travelling and I suppose those old ways of identifications are not what they were," he said.

"For the foreseeable future I think you're probably going to find Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael joining together, I think that's the way it will go.

"Where that goes maybe in 20 years time I don't know."

Mr Ahern, who was instrumental in helping negotiate the Good Friday Agreement said he believed the Northern Ireland Executive could move to a voluntary coalition in future.

Adding that voting patterns were changing in Northern Ireland he said: "People are voting for new parties and people are looking for new issues.

"There are those changes and, I think, that will continue to evolve and then it'll become almost impossible to have a collective leadership.

"I think it would more normal and I think you'll find in time that that will happen."

Mr Ahern spoke about a historic meeting between himself and the late Rev Ian Paisley at a visitors centre at the site of the Battle of the Boyne in 2008.

He said the two "ended up great friends".

"Baroness Eileen and the family, I grew to admire them, we worked together on the St Andrews Agreement and I kept in touch with him afterwards.

"We had that great day at the Battle of the Boyne because I always wanted for several years to try and turn that site into more than just fields.

"It was trying to move history on, 1690 was a long time ago.

"There is nothing wrong with celebrating these things, commemorating them, but at the same time we have to do it in a spirit of understanding each other.

"I built up that relationship with Ian and Eileen and I had a great regard for him. It was a sad day when we lost him."

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