Northern Ireland

Ahern: Issues facing NI politicians 'not as difficult' as 1998

Bertie Ahern
Image caption Bertie Ahern agreed that a Stormont deal was still possible but that the current stalemate was a worry

A former taoiseach has said the problems facing Northern Ireland politicians today are "not as difficult" as those faced in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement talks.

Bertie Ahern said issues delaying the restoration of Stormont, like the Irish language, were very different.

"We were dealing with decommissioning, prisoners and reforming policing - enormous," he told The Sunday News.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive since January 2017.

Subsequent talks have failed to restore the power-sharing institutions.

Earlier, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believes a solution to the current deadlock at Stormont is possible.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern both played an integral part in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Reacting to Mr Blair's comments, Mr Ahern said he agreed that a deal was still possible but that the current stalemate was a worry.

"If you allow this vacuum to continue, that's where the danger lies. You need to be trying to work through the solutions.

'Tremendous friends' with unionists

He said keeping Stormont afloat involves the "art of compromise" which "doesn't happen overnight".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bertie Ahern, George Mitchell and Tony Blair helped broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement

Speaking about the current Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, he impressed the importance of both Irish and UK governments working together "with the parties in the north".

"I'm not aware of what goes on behind the scenes today, but relationships are important.

"I started out with no relationship with the DUP and not much of a better one with UUP and ended up tremendous friends with them, but it didn't happen overnight."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017

He said it was very important the executive was restored.

"It's necessary to have the politicians in place holding the positions of power so they can deal with UK and Irish ministers. You need that interaction.

"If there are problems and difficulties they have to be solved."

You can hear the interview in full on The Sunday News on the BBC iPlayer.

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