Irish Republican News · May 2, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Ahern address at Westminster sparks debate

A row how has broken out over plans by the 26 County leader Bertie Ahern to make a high-profile address to the London parliament at the height of the 26 Countyh election campaign.

Mr Ahern will become the first Taoiseach to address the British parliament at Westminster.

Former Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn said the timing of the address to a joint session of British MPs and ‘Lords’ on May 15 was a serious error of judgment by the Taoiseach.

Mr Quinn called for the date to be reconsidered and deferred until after polling day, accusing Mr Ahern of cynically using the potentially historic address for electoral gain.

The address is part of a series of events marking the restoration of the power-sharing Belfast Assembly on May 8. Three days later Mr Ahern is also due to meet Ian Paisley at the Battle of the Boyne site for another major media event.

“It may well be that when the invitation was being considered, those on the British side did not realise that the date would coincide with a crucial election in this country as I am sure that they would not have wanted to leave themselves open to the claim that such an event might have an impact on the internal political situation in this country,” Mr Quinn said.

Mr Quinn said it was “inconceivable” that a similar invitation would be issued by the Dublin government to a foreign leader while they were engaged in a domestic election campaign.

Nationalist commentators in the North have also expressed unease at the plans, suggesting they are merely being used as props to establish Ahern’s “presidential” image amid a fresh corruption scandal.

However, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald dismissed the Irish Labour Party’s contribution to the peace process as “begrudging”.

“The timing of the taoiseach’s address to the British parliament is not an issue but I hope that as well as talking of the new relationship between our two islands he will talk about Irish re-unification and call on the British authorities to cooperate with the inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings,” she said.

Mr Ahern has said he is “greatly honoured” at the invitation to address the London parliament, which he said symbolised the new levels of “friendship, mutual respect and understanding” between Ireland and Britain.

“On May 8 the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive assume the great opportunities and responsibilities to serve those who elected them,” he said.

He said historic events over the coming weeks would “complete the positive transformation in the relationship between nationalism and unionism”.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News