Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told a grassroots meeting of Fianna Fáil members that an Irish unity referendum should happen by the end of the decade “when the work is done.”
Mr Ahern, who resigned from the party because of the findings of the Mahon Tribunal, addressed a meeting of the ‘Cosmhuintir’ group, attended by several current TDs.
The presence of Mr Ahern was seen by some within Fianna Fáil as an “open act of defiance” against current Taoiseach and party leader Micheál Martin, who has repeatedly refused to consider Mr Ahern's readmittance to the party.
According to sources, among those present were some of Mr Martin's chief internal critics.
They included Jim O’Callaghan, who is seen as Mr Martin's most likely challenger for the party's leadership, John McGuinness, Marc MacSharry, John Lahart, Cork East TD James O’Connor, Cork North Central TD Padraig O’Sullivan, Senator Pat Casey and former Senator Jim Walsh.
The online meeting of more than 100 Fianna Fáil members heard of Mr Ahern’s experience of building peace in Northern Ireland during the 1990s.
It is believed Mr Ahern spoke for 45 minutes and delivered what attendees described as a “powerful account” of how the Good Friday Agreement was delivered and built upon.
Mr Ahern also spoke of the importance of the Fianna Fáil centenary in 1926.
On the issue of a referendum on Irish unity, Mr Ahern said it should happen at the end of the decade when the work is done.
The former Taoiseach gave an account of his work in the North behind the scenes in recent years.
He paid tribute to US Senator George Mitchell who is currently battling an illness.
The meeting heard that the Fianna Fáil party did well in the past when it had strategy groups and engaged with sections of society, which some saw as an implicit criticism of the way it is currently being run.
The meeting also heard that 40,000 new homes a year need to be built to allow people to buy their own property.
The Cosmhuintir group, which began in Donegal after the last election, has grown in size and influence and seeks to give a voice to the ordinary members of Fianna Fáil.