Bertie Ahern has defended comments suggesting loyalists in "ghettos" in Northern Ireland "don’t have a clue" about the post-Brexit protocol.
Speaking at a virtual Brexit conference yesterday, the former taoiseach suggested loyalists see the trading rules as a "trick by the South" to create a united Ireland.
DUP MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson, has criticised Mr Ahern for 'belittling' opposition to the Protocol and is calling for an apology.
Mr Robinson said: “To associate East Belfast with a ghetto and suggest loyalists are not able to understand the Protocol is demeaning and degrading."
Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show, Bertie Ahern moved to clarify what he said.
He said: “I continually talk about areas that are deprived, with high unemployment and lack of investment. I spend a lot of my time meeting and talking to loyalists, unionists, republicans and nationalists… but particularly loyalists.
“They continually make 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 and how it affects their identity."
He said it's that identity issue that concerns loyalists, rather than the "intricacies, details and small print" of the post-Brexit trade deal.
He added: “The point I was making yesterday… that an MP seemed to get himself in a knot about… is the point they make.
“The point I was making yesterday… I’m not sure if he was listening in to the debate at all, but [Mr Robinson] would have realised it was a pro-loyalist point I was making.”
Mr Ahern said he doesn’t agree with the loyalist stance on Brexit and the Protocol, but believes it is another point of view that needs to be addressed in the ongoing debate and talks.
The former taoiseach was speaking as the UK Brexit negotiator David Frost prepares to meet the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic, in the latest effort to find a solution to the ongoing dispute over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Many unionist politicians have voiced their opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, while also condemning recent violent incidents linked to loyalist opposition to the Protocol.