Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern has urged the DUP to reach a compromise to restore Stormont powersharing as he praised Rishi Sunak’s efforts to break the impasse over post-Brexit trade.
Mr Ahern said it was not tenable or sustainable for the party to stick rigidly to the same position.
The former taoiseach commended Mr Sunak’s attempts to secure a return to devolution as he said Ireland had experienced “great difficulty” in its dealings with Boris Johnson during the Brexit process.
The DUP is currently blocking devolution at Stormont in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The UK and EU have agreed the new Windsor Framework as a way to cut the red tape created by the protocol.
While the DUP says the Windsor Framework has gone some way to address its concerns about the protocol, it says some significant problems remain.
It has opposed the framework at Westminster and has made clear its boycott of Stormont will continue until it secures further assurances over its concerns around sovereignty and the application of EU law in Northern Ireland.
Asked in an interview with Sky News what his message to the current DUP leadership would be, Mr Ahern said past unionist political leaders in Northern Ireland, such as the late David Trimble and Ian Paisley and also Peter Robinson, had shown a willingness to compromise to make progress.
“You do not make much progress in politics if you don’t do that,” he said.
“And I think we have to get away from, you know, this is the position and no other position is satisfactory, it’s not tenable or sustainable. And it’s not in the interests of the people in Northern Ireland, there are huge issues in Northern Ireland as there is everywhere else.”
Mr Ahern said the Windsor Framework “nearly solves” the issues standing in the way of a return to powersharing.
“There seems to be a few outstanding ones that have to be resolved,” he added.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me who the prime minister of the United Kingdom is, that’s a matter for the United Kingdom, but you will appreciate that we found it very difficult to deal with Boris,” he said.
“He seems to be a very colourful guy and a very nice guy but, you know, we had the trouble with the backstop, we had trouble with the protocol, we had a lot of trouble with Brexit in the first place.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think we would have had the institutions in Northern Ireland down on and off for the last six or seven years if it hadn’t been for Brexit and it’s caused us untold difficulties and problems.
“But we try in Ireland to live in the future and we try and get on with things and, you know, I think what we now need to do is Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, he has really done a good job in our estimation here in the last six months, he has invigorated the efforts to get everything working in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Ahern referred to Mr Sunak’s attendance last November at the British Irish Council – one of the east/west bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.
He said it was “quite odd” that prior to that engagement a UK PM had not attended such a meeting in 15 years.
Mr Ahern said that level of engagement is what he believed US President Joe Biden was referring to last week when he said the UK should be working more closely with the Irish government to support the people of Northern Ireland.