Foreign Secretary challenged to see for himself what would be put at risk by reintroducing the Border in Northern Ireland
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he wants to bring Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson a tour of the Border he thinks is so “minor” and unimportant.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also suggested the Foreign Secretary actually visit the Border to learn more about it before he sounds off. Asked about Mr Johnson’s latest remarks Mr Varadkar said: “I think it would be a useful experience for anyone involved in Brexit negotiations to visit the border.
“The Prime Minister of Belgium was there not too long ago; (European Commission Brexit negotiator) Michel Barnier has been there, (President of the European Council) Donald Tusk has been there, (European Commission) President Juncker is going to visit when he visits in a few weeks.
“Perhaps it would be no harm for the British Foreign Secretary to do the same.”
Mr Varadkar tacitly acknowledged Mr Johnson’s ill-concealed Tory leadership – and Prime Ministerial ambitions but for now, at least, Mr Johnson’s remarks did not represent the UK government’s official position, he said.
“When I want to know what the view of the British government is, I listen to the Prime Minister.
“I just don’t think it’s for me to comment on the internal divisions that may exist in the British government. My counterpart is Theresa May, the prime minister. My team works with her team.”
He also said Mr Johnson was just plain wrong about the Border issue being overstated: “I know in the past he has described the border that exists that is similar to that between two London boroughs. That is just not the case.”
A spokeswoman for Theresa May said that avoiding checks between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland “has been a priority for the PM from day one.”
The Taoiseach’s comments were followed by those of Mr Ahern, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, who issued his loose ‘invitation’ in Haringey in north London last Friday night where he was the key-note speaker at an event to celebrate 25 years of the Irish Elderly Advice Network based in Camden.
Last week comments by Mr Johnson to Tory party supporters, in which he said that the EU’s refusal to jeopardise progress in Northern Ireland by creating a new hard Border was “the tail wagging the dog”, were leaked to the public.
Mr Johnson said:“When I was mayor of London I could tell where you all were just when you swiped your Oyster card over a Tube terminal. The idea that we can’t track movement of goods, it’s just nonsense, particularly with the Northern Ireland Border. It’s so small, there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way. We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly.”
In the 30 years of the Troubles there were
• 15,300 bombs
Mr Ahern, now retired from electoral politics, told his London audience that he had first been elected to public office in the mid-1970s.
“They were difficult times, and in the 80s, practically everyone in this room was here through those times and you remember the problems and the difficulties, the alienation felt by the Irish community through it as things that were ‘done in your name’ that were NOT done in your name.
“We like to leave that behind us but we also must remember every day that we keep an island of peace,” he said. “Along the Border there’s all kinds of connections of people working together and engaging. As long as we don’t have any more Borders we’ll continue to work closely together.
“I’m going to bring Boris up to the Border, someday.
“He says it’s only a ‘minor problem’ – sometimes minor problems are big problems.
“But I know Boris is very young,” he said. [Mr Johnson is 54 next Tuesday, Mr Ahern is 66].
“If we’re allowed get on with these things, we can make them work.
“Ireland is at peace with itself and we don’t want to go back to the bad days and we remember all those bad days,” he said.
He continued: “They were the times we had, we don’t want to forget our history but understand and share and work together. Nowadays people in Ireland talk more and more about the New Ireland rather than a United Ireland, one in which we can accommodate all the diversity,” he said.
“I was in a school recently where Nationalist, Catholic children played the Lambeg drums and Protestant Unionist kids played the Irish fiddle and nobody was killing each other and nobody working against each other.
“There’s a small hurling club on the Upper Shankill Road and they presented me with a jersey, KingBilly isn’t on the front or back of it.
“I said to a group of Loyalists and Unionists last Saturday that I long for the day I can celebrate the 12th of July and they can celebrate St Patrick’s Day and we don’t have to have the divisions of the past, we don’t have to change our Bank Holidays or do things that are in the other person’s face.
“We’re a small island and we want to share the space with each other north and south.
“If we look back at 20 years of no violence (in Northern Ireland), there’s been more people killed in my old constituency of Dublin Central with the (Dublin gangland) Kinahan-Hutch feud, more people killed in the last four years, than were killed from political violence in Northern Ireland in the las twelve years,” he said.