Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has revealed he is worried about the departure of many on both sides who helped set up the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago.
Ahern told The Irish Times that he fears the agreement signed in 1998 could buckle if a new generation with no memory of The Troubles fails to grasp “the art of compromise” that was essential for his generation to change the course of history.
The Troubles, he recalled, left more than 3,600 people dead.
Now a professor of peace studies and conflict resolution at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ahern visits Northern Ireland “every single week.” He said he is frequently in contact with Tony Blair and the former British prime minister’s private office in England.
He described the late SDLP leader John Hume as “my great hero” and he acknowledged that Gerry Adams, who is being tipped as a possible Sinn Féin candidate for the Irish presidency in 2025, and the late Martin McGuinness did their very best to keep the Sinn Féin/IRA movement together during the agreement talks. He added, “I give them credit for that."
He said Adams concentrated on the organization, while McGuinness kept “the hard men in line.”
Ahern said McGuinness’ credibility with the hard men was bigger. He said, “Martin often said to me, ‘Listen, I’m the one who has to go into the caves and talk to these guys.’ Martin and I got on great. I went to football matches with him at Man United.
“My favorite line from Martin was saying, ‘I never thought I’d go to bed at night, kneeling down saying the rosary and praying that Ian Paisley would stay alive longer.’”
Later in his interview, Ahern claimed there is not enough work being done to design a new 32-county Ireland.
He said, “I think a new united Ireland is possible in time. It won’t happen tomorrow. The institutions in the North have to be running for a sustainable long period. God knows how many years that is.
"The second thing is the planning has to be done. How are we going to integrate the PSNI and An Garda Síochána? How would you get SCs and QCs to bring our courts together? How would your government departments come together? I think that’s all doable.”
Should that work be underway now?
“Yes, yes and it’s not,” Ahern said, adding that he urges Fianna Fáil “all the time” to get on with it.
Ahern resigned as Taoiseach in 2008 following his widely scorned testimony at the planning tribunal on payments to politicians, which found he had not been truthful in his evidence.
*This column first appeared in the April 12 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.