Monday, March 06, 2023

By Claudia Savage, PA

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has highlighted the importance of continuing engagement with paramilitary organisations in the wake of the shooting of DCI John Caldwell.

Mr Ahern’s comments came from Monday’s British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) to discuss the ongoing significance of the Good Friday Agreement approaching its 25th anniversary.

The BIPA brings together legislators from Westminster and the Oireachtas parliament in Dublin.

The 63rd plenary meeting held in Stormont on Monday focused on the ongoing significance of the Good Friday Agreement leading up to 25 years since its ratification.

Police chief welcomes weapon decision
Mr Ahern called for renewed engagement with paramilitaries. Photo: Niall Carson/PA.

The former Taoiseach referenced the recent murder bid on Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in Omagh as he highlighted the continuing threat posed by paramilitaries a quarter of a century on from Northern Ireland’s historic peace accord.

DCI Caldwell remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital after being shot several times at a sports complex last month.

“One area I’d just like to stress to this assembly is that work around the engagement with paramilitaries,” he said.

“It is a fact of life in this divided society that there is unfinished work to do with dealing with paramilitaries – we’ve seen an event recently in Omagh.

“It is a fact of life that paramilitaries and the structures of paramilitarism are still there. There should be a process of continuing dialogue with these groups.”

Mr Ahern said that those involved with the creation of the Good Friday Agreement had not expected that 25 years on, paramilitary violence would be a matter that had not concluded.

“I’m not in the business of condemning it, I’m in the business of asking people to help and to work and resource so that these issues can be dealt with,” he added.

“Whether it’s community policing, whether it’s new structures of neighbourhoods, but it is an area that has been left for quite a considerable time. There is a necessity for the resources, and the effort and the commitment of politicians to deal with this issue.”

British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Plenary
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (centre) during a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Plenary at Stormont. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA.

The decommissioning of arms from paramilitary organisations was a major matter of contention in the negotiations.

“Decommissioning was an issue that we struggled with, probably the one issue, if I had it all over again, I would have done differently to how we did it,” he said.

“It dragged out so long that it was painful and divisive.

“But most of the issues have worked their way with good stability. Peace has worked.”

Despite its problems, Mr Ahern praised the accomplishments of the Stormont Assembly during its operation.

“The fact that these institutions have been struggling for so many times has not been great but hopefully that will change in the short-term,” he said.

“It’s very impressive what has been achieved when these institutions have been up.”

Mr Ahern’s integral role in the manifestation of the Good Friday Agreement was highlighted by a number of delegates, with fellow speaker British diplomat Sir John Holmes recounting how Mr Ahern’s return to negotiations immediately following his mother’s funeral was decisive in bringing the Ulster Unionist party back to the table in a tense period of the discussions.

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