Taoiseach still holds hope for a united Ireland

THE Taoiseach said he still holds aspirations for a united Ireland, 10 years on from the signing of the historic Good Friday agreement.

Speaking at a reunion in Belfast yesterday of the key players who negotiated the document, Bertie Ahern said: “It’s an aspiration that we’ll all be one some day.”

He said: “I’ve spent my life in the Fianna Fáil party and the first objective of that party is to see a united Ireland.

“Our view is that the best way to achieve that is on the basis of consent,” he said, referring to the principal in the Good Friday agreement that would see a united Ireland if the majority of people in the north so wished.

“We are in an evolving situation and I just hope Northern Ireland goes from strength to strength,” he added.

Former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks; Welsh secretary Paul Murphy; former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume; and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, were among those who took part.

Current SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Liz McManus, the former Progressive Democrat TD and junior Foreign Minister were also present.

But former British prime minister Tony Blair and former US president, Bill Clinton — both regarded as key players in the peace process — did not attend yesterday’s conference.

Mr Blair reportedly had a prior family engagement while Mr Clinton was campaigning alongside his wife Hillary for the Democratic nomination.

In a message, Mr Blair said the Good Friday Agreement, which helped broker power-sharing at Stormont, was inspirational across the world.

He said: “They see it as a real beacon of hope for other such conflicts they think it is amazing that it’s happened.

“I think it is a really great symbol of how the world changes so fast and can throw up the opportunity to settle conflicts that seemed irresolvable for decades, centuries even.”

Speaking at yesterday’s conference, the head of the body who oversaw IRA weapons de-commissioning, General John de Chastelain, said he hoped loyalist terror groups would engage properly with the decommissioning body.

“I am encouraged by the fact that the ceasefires are in place,” he said.

“Weapons, whether they are used for criminal purposes rather than paramilitary, should not be there.

“I think it is important paramilitary groups that are still holding on to arms should let us deal with them in the way that was legislated for.”

Emotional tributes were also paid to the late Mo Mowlam, the former Northern Secretary.

Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Andrews, said there was a danger she would “become a footnote in the history of the negotiations”.

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