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'I wondered had I turned into Rip Van Winkle,' Bertie Ahern tells UK Brexit committee

The former Taoiseach insisted repeatedly that “Northern Ireland is not the same as the rest of the UK”.

FORMER TAOISEACH BERTIE Ahern has insisted repeatedly to a House of Commons Brexit committee that Finchley is not the same as Belfast, saying that such an assertion is “constitutionally incorrect”.

He said that Brexit had thrown up the future of Northern Ireland into doubt, that “young people have grown up in a safer place because of the Good Friday Agreement”, and that “nobody wants to see a hardening of that border”.

He told the UK’s Exiting the European Union Committee this morning:

“I wondered had I turned into Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep for 20 years and woke up to find out that everything had changed.”

When asked about how the Irish people reacted to suggestions that Ireland could join up with the UK and leave the European Union as well, he said: “Not very well.”

He also asserted that “I said there was a difference between Dublin and Belfast… but I also said that there’s a difference between Belfast and Finchley.

The argument that Northern Ireland is precisely the same as Finchley is incorrect, it’s constitutionally incorrect as per the Good Friday Agreement.

“What frustrates me and others is there’s a view that Northern Ireland is so intrinsically linked to the UK in a way that [supersedes] the Good Friday Agreement, and that’s the bit that really upsets us.”

He said that on his way to the committee that a man stopped him and “didn’t say good morning to me, didn’t say goodbye to me”, but gave his view on Brexit and Northern Ireland, as people tend to do.

We want to keep the border the way it is now.. and we want to keep the relationship between Ireland and the UK in the hugely positive place that it has reached in the past two decades.

Ahern added that it was his view that if it wasn’t for Brexit, the Northern Ireland institutions “would be up and running again”.

He was also asked about Irish people’s view of the backstop, and said that it was “one of those rare moments” where the other parties in Ireland, the people of Ireland and Irish businesses support the government’s handling of Brexit, and the backstop.

The backstop plan is essentially a safety net. If there is no Brexit trade deal it would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and also it would ensure that there would be no tariffs, quotas, rules of origin, or customs procedures between the EU and the UK.

He added: “It doesn’t need loads of pages, but I understand people need to do their job.”

Sammy Wilson referred to the “rhetoric of the current Taoiseach”, and apparent threats he says that Leo Varadkar made by “turning off lights, stopping planes, sending troops, and building Berlin wall around the border”.

He asked the former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach if he found that rhetoric helpful at this time, and Ahern replied:

“Well you know how much I love all the parties in Northern Ireland, and how much I love all the parties in the south of Ireland. What I’ve spent my life doing, is trying to make sure we have a love-in of all of us, so rhetoric from anybody at anytime isn’t helpful.”

When asked about the effect of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland, Ahern referenced possible job losses, and the impact on trade.

“It’s always the issue that the overall figures mightn’t look too horrific, but when you look at the small indigenous famers and small employers, it would be devastating,” he said.

That’s not to mention the value of sterling at all. I’m not into guessing sterling, even when I was Finance Minister, but that could have an effect.

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