The former prime minister of Ireland and one of the architects of the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland has been urged to apologise after claiming loyalists in “ghettoes” did not have a clue about the Brexit protocol.
Bertie Ahern said people in “east Belfast and the ghettoes and the areas where you are likely to get trouble” had mischaracterised the special arrangements in the Brexit deal and saw it as pathway to a united Ireland.
His comments were described as “demeaning and degrading” by the east Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson, who urged him to clarify his remarks and offer an apology.
Robinson said: “To associate east Belfast with a ghetto and suggest loyalists are not able to understand the protocol is demeaning and degrading.
“People in my constituency who can’t get their Amazon parcels from another part of the United Kingdom well understand the impact of the protocol. Rather than belittling those who oppose the protocol, Bertie Ahern should seek to understand why not a single elected unionist in Northern Ireland supports the protocol,” said Robinson.
The spat came as a fifth week of talks over the Northern Ireland protocol came to an end with negotiations over checks and the control of goods crossing from Great Britain and Northern Ireland expected to continue into December.
Speaking on Thursday at an event hosted by the Brexit Institute in Dublin, the former taoiseach said the protests staged by some loyalist communities were more about identity politics than the Brexit trade arrangements.
“The reality is in east Belfast and in the ghettoes and in the areas where you’re likely to get trouble, is that people haven’t got a clue about the protocol, not a clue.
“They see it as identity. They see it as a road to the Dublin government taking over again and this is a pathway to that. That’s how they see it, even those who you might consider to be a bit more intelligent and articulate. That is the difficulty,” said Ahern.
“As a man who was central to the Belfast agreement being negotiated, Bertie should be honest in recognising that the protocol does alter Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom single market without any consent from people living here, driving a coach and horses through the Belfast agreement.”
Robinson’s DUP colleague Diane Dodds described Ahern’s remarks as “snide” and “despicable”.