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Bertie was back in Leinster House today and he managed to take a dig at Sinn Féin

Look who’s back on Kildare Street.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

FORMER TAOISEACH BERTIE Ahern was back in his old haunt of Leinster House today.

He wasn’t there to sort out the water charges debacle or to try out Enda Kenny’s seat while he is away in Germany – he was actually in the Upper House, the Seanad, to talk about Brexit.

While giving his two cents on the impact Britain’s exit from the EU will have on Ireland, he also managed to get into a bit of a disagreement with Sinn Féin.

The party has been campaigning for a united Ireland and a border poll on the basis that the majority of people living in Northern Ireland voted against Britain leaving the EU.

The possibility of a border poll is contained in a clause in the Good Friday Agreement which allows for a referendum on whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or join with the Republic of Ireland to form a united Ireland.

Addressing senators, Ahern said a debate on a border poll in Northern Ireland had no place in the discussions on Brexit.

Border poll

“The last thing I want out of Brexit, the last thing, the very last thing, is anyone on about border polls. The only time we should have a border poll, in my view, and I’ll argue this for the rest of my life, is when the nationalists and republicans and a respectable, sizeable amount of unionists and loyalists are in favour, and on the basis of consent,” said the former Taoiseach.

“Having a sectarian headcount or political headcount is the last thing we should do,” he added.

Since Britain voted to leave the EU, he said people had been using the issue to say that now is the time for a border poll. While he said there are provisions in the Good Friday Agreement for such a poll, he said the timing must be right.

“This is not the time for that. There is a time for it, there will be a time for it. I think we should all do our best to get to that time by convincing people and winning people over – but don’t put it into this debate,” he told the Seanad this morning.

Offence 

Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile said he took offence to Ahern’s use of the word “sectarian head count”.

“I don’t think that would be a sectarian head count, it would be a referendum like any other,” said  Ó Donnghaile.

He agreed that talks on Brexit should not be hijacked by discussions of a border poll, but said there has been a “societal shift” in Northern Ireland.

“I’m not saying utilise it in cynical way, but I don’t think we should long or wish for unity – we should work for it,” he concluded.

Read: ‘We’re not going to have a general election over water’ – Could this be the row to take down the government?>

Read: Fine Gael says water committee report is illegal and it won’t support it>

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