By James Ward, PA
Bertie Ahern has said people should not “get themselves in a knot” over his comments on loyalism.
The former Taoiseach was called on to apologise by DUP MP Gavin Robinson, after comments he made saying loyalists “haven’t got a clue” about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Ahern found himself in hot water after saying people in “East Belfast and in the ghettos and in the areas where you’re likely to get trouble” did not understand the post-Brexit arrangements.
Defending the comments, he said was making a “pro-loyalist point” about how the Protocol impacts their identity.
He said: “I spent a lot of time in the last few months talking to loyalists leaders and community people and politicians.
“They continually made the point to me that in these areas they haven’t seen the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement.
“They’ are concerned about the protocol how it affects their identity.”
“The point I was making yesterday, in a two minutes intervention in a three and a half hour meeting, that an MP seems to get himself in a knot about, was the point that they made, that it’s not all the intricacies and all the details and the small print of what affects the meat and the medicines and products, but their own identities” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.
“The point I was making yesterday, if he listened to me, I’m not sure if people were listening in to the debate at all, but if he did, he would realise it was a pro-loyalist point I was making.”
The former Fianna Fáil leader made his initial comments at the Brexit Institute at Dublin City University on Thursday.
“I spend a lot of my life still in the North. The reality is in East Belfast and in the ghettos 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,” he said.
“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 the hard reality.”
Mr Ahern also defended his use of the term ghettos in an interview on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne on Friday.
“If you want to take an issue about ghettos you could say you shouldn’t use the word ghetto, but we are talking about deprived areas, we are talking about areas where there are difficulties” he said.
“There are many areas in my own constituency in the past where they were described as ghettos or rough areas.
“Thankfully we moved away from that, so I don’t think people should get themselves in a knot.”
— DUP (@duponline) November 18, 2021
Mr Robinson, the DUP MP for East Belfast, led calls for Mr Ahern to apologise for the comments.
“To associate East Belfast with a ghetto and suggest loyalists are not able to understand the protocol is demeaning and degrading,” he said.
“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.
“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.”