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Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern
Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: BERTIE AHERN Prime Minister of Ireland

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And now we move on to the subject of Ireland because Ireland's Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, is meeting Tony Blair for talks at Downing Street tomorrow. A working lunch, we're told. On the agenda will be the Northern Ireland peace process and EU issues. Now of course Ireland has recently dumped its currency, the punt, and adopted the Euro, so will Mr Ahern be advising Tony Blair to do the same as quickly as possible or what? Anyway I'm joined, delighted to be joined, by the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, right now from Dublin. Good morning.

BERTIE AHERN: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Very good to be talking. What, what is the subject regarding the Northern Ireland peace process that you'll most want to be raising tomorrow? What's your main concern at the moment?

BERTIE AHERN: Well this is the first opportunity this year, David, were we can have a look at how the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is going. It's heading now towards the fourth anniversary of the agreement in another few weeks, and I think progress has been very good. But, as always, we have to keep on watching the issues that have not been dealt with. I think we can look with a lot of satisfaction at the new police service of Northern Ireland and the policing board which has, I think, particularly performed very well. There are issues on the criminal justice review, legislation which has been going forward. I think that the main thing for us now is to make sure that all of the issues of equality, of progress that were set out in the agreement, the institutions of the agreement that are going very well, that we can keep pace with that. There's no elections due 'til May 2003 but what we've been doing over the last year or so, and this, as I said, this is the first time this year, is just to go through those issues and make sure things are progressing well. But I think David, from a peaceful point of view, from a progress point of view, there is no extraordinary pressurising points that are creating major difficulties. It's more looking at the issues and make sure we can build and progress them. Around policing, is probably the biggest and most difficult one that we're still engaged in.

DAVID FROST: Yes, and you'd like to see Sinn Fein supporting that, presumably, and joining it.

BERTIE AHERN: Yes, David, I think ultimately if we're to have proper policing with the respect of the community - it's necessary in any society that the community support the police service. We hope that ultimately - and I think it will happen, it will take some time, but next month or in April a review starts of the police services, a bill and legislation, that's meant to take about six months. On the other side of that it's hoped that there could be some amending legislation, and somewhere around there I would hope that Sinn Fein would take the opportunity to come in, because I do think ultimately it's vitally important that everyone representing Nationalist, Republican, Loyalist and Unionist, are part of the police service. But so far the board has performed very, very well and I must say people would be very satisfied with the progress that they have made on some very difficult issues in the last month or so.

DAVID FROST: There's one thing, isn't there Bertie, John Reid talked about Northern Ireland becoming "a cold place for Protestants" because the Republicans seem to be making all the running. A cold place for Protestants - that's obviously a problem - and Gerry Adams probably didn't say the most reassuring thing when he said Unionism now needs to begin seriously thinking about discussing and engaging with Nationalists and Republicans about the nature and form a new and acceptable united Ireland might take. That's going a bit of ahead of itself, isn't it, at the moment, if it's a cold place for Protestants at the moment?

BERTIE AHERN: Well, you know, the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, David, is the way I'd rather look at this, because I think if you go one side or the other you know the difficulties. But the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is there's not losers, that this is win, win, that we get a more peaceful society and a more peaceful existence for everybody, where quality of life improves, where it's more attractive for investment and that where we work on a parity of the scheme and the quality agenda and a criminal justice system and a human rights system that looks at best practice anywhere else in the democratic world, rather than, I think, trying to focus in where there's difficulties. Because once you do that and if you use the language of a cold place for Unionists, or if you use it that Nationalists have not had their equal rights and shares, well then you get into the past and all the difficulties and, you know, you know where that brings us. So I think what we have to do is to try to make sure that we follow, and we are doing that, and I think Prime Minister Blair is very conscious of it, we are in the Irish Government, the parties are in the Northern Ireland Assembly, that we get on with the reform agenda that gives parity of esteem and where everybody has their equal rights. And, you know, a lot of people said we'd never make any progress on that, but we are and I think we're seeing fundamental reform successfully being implemented, but still there's a lot of work to be done.

DAVID FROST: And in the upcoming period, I mean do you see it possible as a result of the general election that's coming up, do you see it, probably just before the World Cup, people say, but anyway, in your general election, do you see it as a possibility after that election that you could be forming a coalition with, with a growing Sinn Fein in Ireland? Or would you rule that out because of the constitution?

BERTIE AHERN: Well, no, I've made our position very, very clear. In our constitution there can only be adherence to one police force, one army, and until Sinn Fein makes their position unambiguous and clear and they clarify their positions, then that's not possible and that's not going to be possible for some time. Though I do acknowledge that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and others have clearly stated that it is their intention to move their political movement totally away from the past and totally away from their associations, or connections, with the IRA. In actual fact, I think their stated position is that there will be no IRA, at that period we'll be able to move on, but that's not going to be the way for the election, which will be before the World Cup, David, because we don't want to get mixed up with the World Cup, an election would be a very bad recipe.

DAVID FROST: Yes, absolutely. Get it out, get it out of the way. Tell me, will you be raising with, are you going to still campaign on the issue of Sellafield and the decision to start reprocessing at the Mox plant in Sellafield? Are you going to continue on that one to try and get it stopped?

BERTIE AHERN: Yes, that is the stated position of the Irish Government and the Irish people generally, there is major concern about the whole Sellafield plant here, particularly the Mox plant. We are, at the moment, with the United Nations, and the Law of the Sea and looking at EU law and looking at other aspects of where we can try to fight and argue this case. It is an issue of major, major and ongoing concern in Ireland and we have to continue to make that point very clear and the Prime Minister's very well aware and very conscious of my view, though I know he has constraints but I'll again tomorrow make our points on this. But we are now following the procedures of the Law of the Sea conference and EU law and some other legal matters to try to, to get closure on this issue as best we can.

DAVID FROST: So you and Tony Blair on that one agree to disagree.

BERTIE AHERN: Yes on that one I'm afraid we're not as we are in most other issues, that we do not agree on the issue of Sellafield.

DAVID FROST: One other vote you've got coming up, Bertie, is this vote on abortion and where you are putting forward a referendum to take away a lot of the already small rights available for abortion in Northern Ireland. When people round the world, or here, see those rights being taken away and abortion carrying a 12 year prison sentence, well to use a phrase we heard earlier, they, they might see that as medieval savagery.

BERTIE AHERN: Well I, I think if they looked at our legislative measure and it's Board of Constitutional legislative measure they certainly wouldn't, looking at it that way. But we're endeavouring to do, this issue we spent the last four years working on, we've had a long and detailed debate, it is the protection of human life in pregnancy, in our statute law which we had not for over 150 years given the rights to, to pregnant women, and the clear rights, we're now doing that in a statutory basis to ensure that if they have any life-threatening medical difficulties that they are entitled to full medical treatment, that the doctors who give them such treatment in obstetrics, that they have the league of protection. And the one issue we're rowing back is suicide, because it, the view is, and all the psychiatric report that we've received, in that the rare cases where people perhaps would have suicidal tendencies that abortion is not the correct medical issue to deal with. So we would look at this as not in any way going back to the past but giving people the rights, giving people protections that have not been in Irish statutory law, at the same time protecting the unborn and protecting human life in pregnancy.

DAVID FROST: Bertie Ahern, thank you so much for being with us this morning, we really appreciate it. Thank you very much indeed and I hope you have a very successful advancing of the cause of peace tomorrow.

BERTIE AHERN: Thank you David.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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