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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020

'It has had quite a violent past': Bertie Ahern explains his role in Bougainville referendum

The former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach also said that he reckoned Boris Johnson would get an overall majority.

Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission Bertie Ahern this morning.
Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission Bertie Ahern this morning.

FORMER TAOISEACH BERTIE Ahern has explained his involvement in the Bougainville Referendum and the significance of the result, as chair of the referendum’s commission.

Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, he said that “this is a big issue with Australia and New Zealand, this is an everyday news story”.

“It has had quite a violent past, the last number of years have been peaceful,” he added.

Acting in his role as Chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, Ahern declared yesterday that 176,928 people (98% of voters) had backed independence with just 3,043 supporting the option of remaining part of Papua New Guinea with more autonomy.

The commission was responsible for preparing the region for the independence vote and Ahern was appointed as chairman in October 2018.

Ahern said that his flights and B&B expenses are covered:

“The allowance I get is small… as I did in the Basque country and the Ukraine, most my work is with development organisations where you don’t get salaries but UNDP cover the costs.”

Speaking at the time of the appointment, Bougainville President John Momis said the country was delighted to have the former Taoiseach on board.

Ahern told the TodaySOR programme this morning that the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea contacted Ahern two years ago. His grandfather, rared in Australia but born in Derry, and used to visit Derry quite frequently.

He said that for the last 18 months, he has been back and forth implementing the peace process and the referendum for independence.

For the first time in 30 years, Ahern said, the President of Bougainville and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea will meet and chart the way forward tomorrow.

On Stormont, Ahern said: “The issues are clear, they’re well rehearsed… The resumption of talks on Tuesday, I hope that happens. There is no reason in the wild world why the institutions can not be got back up quickly and I hope that happens.”

Of the elections in the UK, he said that he “cannot see Labour being able to get anywhere quite frankly”.

I suspect Johnson will get an overall majority. Then we’ll have to go back to dealing with the absolute nonsense that he will get a trade deal in 2020 and it’s as likely that I’ll get home in an hour as that happening.

- with reporting from Céimin Burke

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