Bertie Ahern says DUP should take 'a few weeks' to decide on Windsor Framework deal

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said it should take the DUP "a few weeks" to decide on the Windsor Framework deal between the EU and UK and if they will re-enter powersharing.

The agreement between the UK and EU aims to make changes to the protocol, namely reducing the number of checks on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

It was revealed by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week.

So far, the DUP has been tight lipped on its response.

Bertie Ahern, one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement, was speaking at a special sitting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) in Stormont on Monday.

He spoke to reporters in the Great Hall, where he was asked his view on timeframe the DUP has to issue a formal response to the Windsor Framework.

"I'm not into the job of putting pressure but I think any reasonable interpretation, I've read the full documents now, I've talked to several legal people who have read the full documents, so I think that end of the process is finished. Now it is the clarifications," he said.

"I think it is reasonable in a document that is so lengthy, and so many legal background, people will have clarifications, particularly, both legal clarifications and just working mechanisms, how these things are going to work and affect - well it would seem like a few weeks is a reasonable time."

Earlier in the day, Mr Ahern had made a wide-ranging speech in the Stormont chamber.

On the topic of paramilitarism, the former Taoiseach said there was "unfinished work to do" as the Good Friday Agreement reaches its 25th anniversary.

He made reference to the recent attempted murder of police officer, DCI John Caldwell in Omagh.

"It is a fact of life that paramilitarism and the structures of paramilitarism are still there," added Mr Ahern.

He spoke about a report compiled by the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) which is a body that was set up under the Fresh Start Agreement to monitor progress to tackle paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland.

"The IRC report, if you get a chance, those who haven't looked at it, they make very interesting points that there should be a process of continuing the dialogue with these groups and to try and bring it to a particular road where we will see the end of them," he explained.

"I'm not here to denounce any of the work, effort or engagement that goes on with paramilitaries, that's not the point I'm making.

"I'm making the point that in a normal society we have to work to where they're no longer there, where they're no longer part of society, where they're no longer part of what happens and it is a fact as they point out in their engagement that the paramilitary structures are still there."

In respect of the Good Friday Agreement itself, Mr Ahern said it was set up with "two sections".

"One, there was the peace process that we would bring peace and stability away from the huge carnage we had seen for 25 years and then we would deal with the politics process," he said.

Mr Ahern said the first element on the peace process was "maybe not totally perfect" but got "fairly close" to its objective.

"The second bit up and down and the fact that these institutions have been struggling for so many times and probably 60% of the time has not been great, quite frankly, but hopefully that will change in the short-term again."

Mr Ahern emphasised his belief that there is no need for "any new institutions" but rather a need to "work the institutions that were agreed under the Good Friday Agreement".

He said that in 1998 the idea of Brexit was "unimaginable".

"We discussed everything in 1998, from A to Z and back and up and down but nobody ever imagined that the UK could possibly leave the EU.

"If they did people would have probably thought they were funny people anyway but nobody did mention it.

"The work of this week I think is to, and the work of this day last week was to bring the UK to the end of that period of what the arguments we've had since 2016 and I think the context then of Northern Ireland is different.

"The future I foresee and the one provider from the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago is one much deeper and more dynamic relations between the sovereign governments East and West.

"Ironically the change contest provides a dynamic for all of this to happen and there is an essential Irish interest in replacing the rich eco-system of a former British-Irish relationships, we mutually enjoyed on the margins of our shared EU business in Brussel.

"The British-Irish Council has to be reinvigorated and I especially welcome the attendance of Prime Minister Sunak at its recent proceedings, the first Prime Minister to do so since Gordon Brown over a decade ago."

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