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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
The Good Friday agreement
Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister
Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister

BBC Breakfast With Frost, interview with Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister, 13 October 2002

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

DAVID FROST: And the Irish Prime Minister's been listening to this, Bertie Ahern, he's in our Dublin studio, how would you find a way through all of this Bertie?

BERTIE AHERN: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Good morning.

BERTIE AHERN: I think David unfortunately it looks as if again we're going to see the suspension of the Institutions but we're not seeing the suspension of the Agreement so working closely with Tony Blair, working closely with the British government and John Reid, I think we have to, to now try and look at all of the outstanding issues and their many, what David and Martin have been saying clearly, the fact that violence still exists, clearly the fact that there is still not a full move away from the past, from the activities of the past into total democratic means, that's creating tensions, it's, it's breaking trust and what we have to try to deal with, that problem along with a lot of the other outstanding problems and there are outstanding problems, there's demilitarisation, there is the whole issue of paramilitary activities, there's the sectarianism that, that's in Northern society and I think we have to try in this period of suspension to come to a total and holistic approach to dealing with these issues.

DAVID FROST: But I think that, yes absolutely, I think seeing both David Trimble and Martin McGuinness there back to back as it were, there didn't seem to be much, much room for debate or movement, no movement from Martin McGuinness on those points, what can you do, what's the magic formula that could make the two sides meet up again?

BERTIE AHERN: Well you know I know they've opposing views that, that's always the issue and both of those, both Martin and David both sit in the Executive, they're Cabinet colleagues together and you can see the problems but I think probably if there was a good bit of this David, is that we have moved an awful lot of the problems, the outstanding problems out of the way, there remains a number, they're very serious ones, they're complex ones. What I do believe giving a span of time and hopefully not too much time because I would not like to see the institutions being suspended for long, I don't like to see the institutions suspended at all quite frankly, what the two governments are, are the guardians of the agreement and both Tony Blair and I and John Reid and Brian Cowan we're very clear on what the issues are and what we have to try between the parties to build the trust and come to solutions to these problems and there are problems what Martin and David said are both correct and these are problems of last week, there was the fact that we were going to see the institutions suspended by the 18th of January. So we have to try and, it's no good dodging the issues, we know the half a dozen issues that are there, we know that there has to be a full move away from violence to democratic means and we have to look at these issues and try to broker agreement between them.

DAVID FROST: But at the moment it would seem that from what Tony Blair has said and what David Trimble has said and so on, that the next move lies with Sinn Fein to come up with answers to John Reid's questions and Tony Blair's question, the next move is up to them isn't it?

BERTIE AHERN: Well I think in some ways Martin McGuinness answered that question for you David and I think it's a useful answer, he said that both he and Gerry Adams are totally committed to trying to deal with the question of moving the IRA from the past into the future and of course that is the question that creates most difficulty for the trust in the Unionist community and for David Trimble. And the other side of it Martin McGuinness's agenda there's the fact that the sectarianism, that it was quite a different, difficult summer, there was problems at the inter-faith areas, it's no good saying who is, who is to blame for that because there was blame I suppose on all sides. But, these are difficulties they have to come to resolution in, I think that having moved on, it's eight years now David since the first ceasefire, it's five years since the second, enormous progress has been made, it's a pity we have to suspend institutions to resolve the problems but if that's what has to happen I think we should use the time as quickly as possible to try and resolve this because there are elections next May and I do not think it would be a good thing to have a suspension all the way to next May because that would create vacuums and tensions and you, you and I know what happens when that happens.

DAVID FROST: There are, there are also elections coming up next weekend but of course they're in, in the Irish Republic and there's this vital vote, the second time this vote has taken place to ratify the Nice Treaty which has to be unanimously ratified and therefore when, when your people by 54 I think to 46 rejected it that put the whole thing in danger. Are you very confident you're going to turn that around next week because the polls yesterday were encouraging but with a large number of don't knows would you say you're confident, mildly confident or fearful?

BERTIE AHERN: Well hopeful I'd say David, neither of those things, but we, we have worked very hard since September of last year to change the context of what's happened last time around, we've had a forum for Europe that's gone around the country debating the issues, explaining the issues of Europe. We have given constitutional guarantee to the issue of neutrality so next week a vote for Irish neutrality is a yes vote because we're now putting the neutrality wording into our own constitution. We have also done our best to change our parliamentary scrutiny of EU matters which was an issue people were concerned about. But you're correct David it's a crucial vote, it's a crucial vote for Ireland, it's a crucial vote for Europe, it's a crucial vote to the whole process of enlargement. The 12 countries that want to join Europe in this decade we stand between that and hopefully the, as the debate goes on here and comes to the last number of days that, and it has been a lively debate, it's been a very intensive campaign, totally opposite to the last time, that I hope that the Irish people will support this. I hope they see the importance to all this, it's important to us nationally, it's important to our present economic position to the role that we hold in Europe, the significant part that we play in Europe and very much it's important to the applicant countries who wish to join for the future.

DAVID FROST: And are you predicting victory next Sunday?

BERTIE AHERN: Well we, we certainly hope that, I mean the polls would show that we're ahead but as you know David, there's only one poll that ever matters in an election, the people that come out on the day.

DAVID FROST: That's what, that's what the politician always said, yes to deal with the polls and the one that really matters but on the one that really matters if it went wrong, I mean a no, does that mean in fact that the whole idea of enlargement is dead, does it mean that in fact Ireland might have to leave the European Union?

BERTIE AHERN: Well it would create grave questions for us, I think people would certainly immediately question our sincerity to the European model, they would question whether we were sincere about the role we play within Europe and we have argued all of those during the campaign. Of course the bigger question for Europe is, there is no other mechanism, there is no other way of enlargement proceeding without the ratification by all member states of the Nice Treaty so therefore we would create huge uncertainty, an enormous dilemma because a week after the Irish vote, the following weekend the European Council, the final stages of the discussions with ten countries start and they've all to be finished by Christmas, they're very well advanced and they're probably very near completion anyway. So we would throw that into chaos and certainly David that is not what I want to see happen, it's not what the government want to see, but more importantly I think it's not what the Irish people really want to do and so therefore I'm hoping that the importance of this vote will be understood by the Irish people, I've done my best to explain it as I've many groups outside of the political domain and inside the political domain so that we can get a yes vote and let Europe move on the way the Irish people have always...the last 30 years played a positive constructive role in European matters.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Bertie Ahern, thank you Bertie.



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