The architects of the Good Friday Agreement have joined forces to urge British prime minister Theresa May to end her “aloof” approach to the North and help break the year-long political deadlock two decades on from the historic peace deal.
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former prime minister Tony Blair and former US senator George Mitchell insisted the renewed effort is needed in separate interviews before they attend tomorrow’s 20-year anniversary in Belfast.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Ahern severely criticised the British government’s increasing neglect of the North, saying it is “more aloof than ever”, and was scathing in his belief that a lack of interest has helped cause the latest Stormont stalemate.
“Yes, they are aloof and they are more aloof than they have ever been,” said Mr Ahern. “They need a bit of pulling from the Irish Government.
“Theresa May is so preoccupied by the Brexit thing, but she has to realise Northern Ireland is part of the Brexit thing. But I would like to see them far more engaged, the blame is with them more than with the Irish Government.”
Underlining the behind-the-scenes work involved in the lead-up to 1998 as a sign of what is needed, Mr Ahern said he and Mr Blair had an 18-month strategy on how to resolve the issues in the North before they both took office in 1997.
“Tony Blair and I were working in opposition throughout 1995 and 1996,” Mr Ahern said. ”We were working out what we would do if we were elected. We had a strategy worked out.”
In a separate interview with BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said resolving the year-long deadlock “requires the full focus of the [British] government” and that “at a certain point, the authority of the prime minister is necessary to get people to come into some form of alignment”.
Mr Blair said he “cannot believe it is not possible to find a way around” the current impasse between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
However, he admitted “it’s not easy” and said “Brexit complicates things for a variety of reasons... the art of politics is compromise, that is what political leadership is about.”
In an interview with BBC Radio former Mr Mitchell, who chaired the cross-party peace talks 20 years ago, said hard-line Conservative MPs who believe the deal should be scrapped to help Brexit do not understand “thousands of people who might otherwise have been killed” are alive today.
In a pointed reference to some of Ms May’s back-benchers before he attended an inter-denominational prayer commemoration event at the Peace Bridge at Aghalane, Co Cavan, yesterday, Mr Mitchell said “no one would disagree” the deal has brought “20 years of peace”.
The three-pronged intervention has been seen as a pointed criticism of the failure to resolve the year-long political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
Mr Ahern, Mr Blair and Mr Mitchell will attend a series of 20-year anniversary events in Dublin and Belfast over the next two days alongside former US president Bill Clinton and other key figures during the 1998 talks.
Meanwhile, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said unionism needs leadership of the kind it had two decades ago when the UUP and David Trimble agreed to talk.
Mr Adams said he believes DUP leader Arlene Foster has acted “in good faith” but has allowed a unionist “rump” to reject what he described as a good deal to end the current Stormont stalemate.
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