‘I wondered if I had become Rip Van Winkle,’ Bertie Ahern told UK Brexit committee

FORMER TAOISEACH BERTIE Ahern has repeatedly insisted before a House of Commons Brexit committee that Finchley is not the same as Belfast, saying such a claim was ‘constitutionally incorrect’.

He said Brexit had cast doubt on Northern Ireland’s future, that “young people have grown up in a safer place thanks to the Good Friday deal”, and that “no one wants to see a hardening of this border ”.

He told the UK Exit Committee this morning:

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

Asked how the Irish people reacted to suggestions that Ireland could join the UK and also leave the EU, he replied: ‘Not very well’.

He also said: “I said there was a difference between Dublin and Belfast… but I also said there was a difference between Belfast and Finchley.

The argument that Northern Ireland is exactly the same as Finchley is incorrect, it is constitutionally incorrect under the Good Friday Agreement.

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

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

We want to keep the border as it is now … and we want to keep the relationship between Ireland and the UK at the extremely positive place it has reached over the past two decades.

Ahern added that in his opinion, without Brexit, the institutions of Northern Ireland “would be operational again”.

He was also asked about the views of the Irish people on the safety net, and said it was “one of those rare times” where the other parties in Ireland, the Irish people and Irish business support the government’s handling of Brexit and the safety net.

The support plan is essentially a safety net. If there was no Brexit trade deal, it would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and also 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 a lot of pages, but I understand people have to do their jobs.”

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

He asked former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach if he found this rhetoric useful at the moment, 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 Southern Ireland. What I’ve spent my life doing is trying to make sure we all love each other, so anyone’s rhetoric at all times isn’t helpful.

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

“It’s always the problem that the overall numbers don’t sound too horrible, but when you look at the indigenous small farmers and small employers, that would be devastating,” he said.

This is not to mention the value of the pound at all. I don’t want to guess the pound sterling, even when I was finance minister, but it might have an effect.

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