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Arlene Foster has joined other unionist politicians in criticising Bertie Ahern. Alamy

Ex-DUP leader Foster criticises Bertie Ahern over Belfast 'ghetto' comments on NI protocol

The former Taoiseach said loyalists who are opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol “haven’t got a clue” about how it works.

FORMER DUP LEADER Arlene Foster has called on Bertie Ahern to apologise for referring to parts of Belfast as “ghettos” in comments he made about loyalists and the Northern Ireland Protocol yesterday.

Speaking on RTÉ earlier today, the former Taoiseach defended his use of the phrase, and said people shouldn’t “get themselves in a knot” over it.

“If you want to take an issue about ghettos, you can say that you shouldn’t use the word ‘ghetto’, we’re talking about deprived areas,” he said. 

Ahern said loyalists who are opposed to the protocol “haven’t got a clue” about how it works while speaking at an event hosted by Dublin City University’s Brexit Institute yesterday.

“I spend a lot of my life still in the North. The reality is in East Belfast and in the ghettos and in the areas where you’re likely to get trouble, is that people haven’t got a clue about the protocol, not a clue,” Ahern said.

“They see it as identity… They see it as a road to the Dublin Government taking over again and this is a pathway to that,” he added.

The remarks drew a swift response from unionist politicians and Foster added her voice to the rebukes today.

“He needs to reflect on his words and apologise. Calling areas in Belfast ‘ghettos’ is not a good look,” she wrote on Twitter today.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is one of the key elements in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that legally enabled the UK to leave the European Union.

It means Northern Ireland effectively remains part of the EU’s single market for goods. It allows goods to flow freely between Ireland and Northern Ireland and removes the threat of a hard border.

The European Union and the UK remain deadlocked in negotiations over how the protocol is implemented.

Discussing loyalist opposition to the protocol, Ahern said the idea that it is about trade “just passes them by.”

“It’s seen as a trick by the south to move the border from across the island, and to put it down the Irish Sea, as a trap for government.

Even those who you might consider to be a bit more intelligent and articulate. That is the difficulty.

“(DUP leader) Jeffrey Donaldson well understands how we might get over the detail, and the reason he keeps on about the other issue is because he’s trying to – which I don’t blame him for – he’s trying to serve the loyalist community as well,” he added.

Foster joins DUP MP for East Belfast Gavin Robinson in calling on Ahern to apologise for his remarks.

“To associate East Belfast with a ghetto and suggest loyalists are not able to understand the protocol is demeaning and degrading,” he said.

“People in my constituency who can’t get their Amazon parcels from another part of the United Kingdom well understand the impact of the protocol.”

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