Bertie Ahern’s long career in Irish politics includes his term as Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland from 1997-2008. Mr. Ahern participated in negotiations leading to the “Good Friday Agreement” in Northern Ireland and recently was among a group of world leaders that called on ETA to permanently give up its violent struggle; on October 20th, ETA finally declared a “historic” and “definitive” end to its armed activity.
In this interview with the Global Observatory, Mr. Ahern discussed the conditions that led to ETA’s declaration and the steps needed for reconciliation and disarmament.
Mr. Ahern was optimistic about the prospects of the declaration, saying, “I think it needs a period of stability to try to get this to bed down and sustain itself, but I am confident that the initial work has been successful, and that there’s good grounds and foundation to build on.”
Mr. Ahern called on the respective governments to get involved in a process of reconciliation and disarmament. “Now you need the governments of Spain and France to get into talks and to deal with the consequences of the conflict,” he said.
But Mr. Ahern emphasized the need to be perseverant, and to be patient. Recalling the experience of Northern Ireland, he said, “What you have to do is move to a position where you can remove the difficulties that make the organization be there in the first place… but, it’s one step as you go, in successful peace processes. If you try to take them all together, it won’t happen.”
The experience in Northern Ireland provides reasons to be hopeful, said Mr. Ahern. “Obstacles are there to be overcome. I think with a sense of goodwill, a sense of parity of esteem, a sense of people working to find resolutions and being tolerant and being forgiving for all that has happened, as we had to do in Northern Ireland – of all the terrible things and atrocities that happened – you can find resolutions and move forward, and make it a better process, not only for this generation, but for the next generation.”
The interview was conducted on October 28, 2011 by Marie O’Reilly, Publications Officer, International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):