Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered Northern Ireland “a nuisance”, according to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Speaking to RTÉ radio program This Week, Mr Ahern said Mr Johnson had no coherent policy on the north and had appointed secretaries of state who he said were “not engaged in work”.
Mr Ahern said high staff turnover in recent years had hampered progress in the north.
He said he would not name names, but with many named “the only thing they wanted to accomplish when they got in was how quickly they could get out of it.”
The former Fianna Fáil leader said it was a problem that people not engaged in the work were named.
“It’s something that we’ve all suffered from and it’s the harsh reality,” he said.
Mr Ahern said he had been struck by the fact that many Northern secretaries in recent years were “not listening or not ready to listen, or being one-sided”.
The Irish government will have to ‘work very, very hard’ to make progress in the north when Mr Johnson’s successor is appointed, he said.
On Mr Johnson’s resignation, Mr Ahern said it was a “glorious opportunity to change” relations between Ireland and Britain which he said had been “strained” since 2019, which, he said worsened under Mr Johnson’s leadership.
He said the Irish government had to repeatedly explain to the UK what the Northern Ireland Protocol is and what an international agreement is.
Mr Ahern said it is lost in the UK media and in the House of Commons that the protocol grew out of an agreement in 2019 between former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Johnson.
He said the protocol and the trade agreement were freely negotiated and the European Union just wanted it to be implemented.
He said people on the British side seemed to think the deal with them was done in isolation and that it was not part of the conversation.
Mr Ahern said no one should walk into the campaign for the leader of the Conservative Party saying he would take Mr Johnson’s line on protocol. He said it was up to Ireland and the Irish government to make the case and state the reality.
He also said that “Boris wasn’t interested in listening” because he was “totally indebted to the [pro-Brexit] European Research Group within his own party’, but he said Mr Johnson was no longer a factor and it was now possible to explain what had happened.
Mr Ahern said he believed the DUP would live up to a reasonable deal on the protocol provided it went through the UK government.
He said Ireland, the EU must be open to negotiation.
EU Financial Stability Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said that from the committee’s perspective, nothing has changed in relations between it and the UK government since the announcement of Mr Johnson’s departure.
Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week, Ms McGuinness said that “although it has been a roller coaster week for politics and even for the UK Government, but the basics of our relationship have not changed and the fundamentals of this that needs to be completed in relation to Brexit has not changed either.”
She added that it is very clear from the European side that the Northern Ireland Protocol needs to be implemented,
“We want it to be implemented in a flexible way, which responds to the challenges businesses are facing in Northern Ireland with its implementation, and for it to work for Northern Ireland – for the people and for business.”