The Hon. Bertie Ahern (Former Prime Minister of Ireland)

26.05.2010 - Interview conducted by Hannah Moysey

Q1. Whilst negotiating the Belfast Agreement (The Good Friday Agreement) there must have been many hurdles and obstacles that you had to overcome, what would you say was the key to reaching a satisfactory agreement?

The biggest difficulty we had was trying to negotiate the 1998 Agreement that set out the three strands on which the whole agreement was based on, and then we spent the next nine years implementing that was the hard bit. George Mitchell said at the time its one thing to negotiate an agreement, but implementing it is going to be harder, he was right. The three strands were how the political system within Northern Ireland would work, how the relationship between Belfast and Dublin north south would work, and the how the relationship between Dublin and London, and the British and Irish would work. Everything that happened was really around those three issues. There were many stop many starts, because the issues we were dealing with were the side issues, big side issues. Issues such as how to get rid of people’s guns and their arms, and how to decommissioning arms. Other issues such as how to release prisoners who have had long sentences which would have to be done on a license system. That was very difficult and very emotional and we had to start the process of getting people to work together and we had to further the understanding of people who really hated each other for years people, we had to start that process. It took us probably nine years from the time we started to the time we got there. None of the years were lost because since 2007 it has been a very stable period, ever since and a peaceful period as well.

Q2. Do you think that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will ever be unified? And do you believe that the practices that were used in securing The Good Friday Agreement can be used as a lesson in the possibility of a unified Ireland?

No conflict is ever the same. The model for Northern Ireland is for people who are studying whether it's a northern Irish conflict of in a world context.  We've had Iranians, Iraqis, people from Sri Lanka, we've had people from everywhere with an interest in the Irish conflict. I obviously would love to see a United Ireland some day, but we should not rush it. It has to be done by the powers of persuasion who can build confidence and find and agreement. The British government have now relinquished their control, we've relinquished our occupants. The people within Northern Ireland need to vote for unification, or  remain part of the British Isles. Over time it can be done by persuading people, and trying to encourage people over the next 20 to 30 years. I would like to see it some day, I certainly would like to see it tried.

Q3. In 2004 you became President of the European Council and backed a European Constitution, what obstacles did you find in facing its strong opposition within Europe?

It was a really good period because we had three big issues at the time, we had the negotiation of the European Constitution firstly, we had the bringing in the ten new members under enlargement was the second team and we were trying to set up the European Commission and the president of the Commission. We had a lot of obstacles, people didn't like the idea of a constitution they didn’t want their national identity to be subsumed. The Lisbon treaty really made the changes necessary to allow it to be where domestic countries had their say. It was difficult to get people to agree with it, but ultimately it worked in the Lisbon Treaty.

Q4. You were Minister of Finance during the ‘Irish Celtic tiger ’ in the early 90s. Do you think that the European economy can fully recover from the latest downturn and the crisis in Greece? How is the current situation affecting sectors such as manufacturing and foreign investment in Ireland?

We all hope that it recovers. It will take some time obviously the international markets have spent the last month or six weeks being very concerned with what they believe was the level of debt. They are obviously concerned that they don’t have all the information from the banks or from banking institutions and that’s obviously creating some wobbles, but The European Union and the Euro group have really tried hard over the last number of weeks to put packages together to create stability. They've put in a huge effort and I hope that that it does recover but the markets obviously suffer perception problems always. The European Union has figures out in Ireland today which show that while we continue to attract a bit if not a lot, 0.7% for the remainder of this year we had a very difficult economic year. They are now predicting 3% growth next year so that would really be good. Because of all the hard medicine we've had to implement, which is needless to say unpopular, we still did the right thing. We were probably on the mend and hopefully this Autumn we're two years on from the crisis.

Q5. Ireland is a country with a lot of strong cultures and traditions. Do you feel that these could hold the country back or do you believe that there is a way to keep Ireland's unique identity and integrate it into a globalised world?

I've no problem or fear about the future. Our culture, identity, music, song and dance and show our strong creative abilities, and shows we are strong. Even as times get more turbulent and it allow less resources for creative arts we have had 15 to 20 years of good times. There's no danger, while we've pooled some of our sovereignty as we move forward it has not in any way affected our unique cultural identity and that continues to flourish.

Q6. What roles do you see supranational and multilateral organizations in the future, for example the UN?

Multilateralism in my view is the right way to go in a globalised world. Even if it wasn't so globalised the way it is with modern technology it is a global village as far as trade and everything else on Internet. Some newspapers are going to start charging for information such as the Murdoch group, so the globalised world might not be as globalised as it once was. For trade for business for peoples reputations there will always be domestic national music, national TV, songs and national films. The globalised community will affect a lot of real areas, that's just the way of the world. It's not going to subsume nationalities or civic societies or individual countries. As we become more regionalised the global bodies will have a big power in particular, medicine and the World Heath Organization with human likeness the dignity of the person all of these things all of these are global in terms of the higher standards of dignity and respect, and equally where there are conflicts. I think it is to keep us to our task to peace building people working together in conflict areas and investment areas.