Incoming UK Prime Minister Liz Truss's pick for Northern Ireland Secretary will be ‘absolutely crucial’ for relations between Britain and Ireland, according to Bertie Ahern.
The former Taoiseach was speaking to Newstalk Breakfast as Ms Truss travels to Scotland to meet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and launch her premiership.
The former UK foreign secretary won the race to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader yesterday – comfortable beating off the challenge of former Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
She is expected to announce her Cabinet at around 4:30pm this afternoon – and Mr Ahern said Irish eyes will be on one appointment in particular.
“Who she puts in as Secretary of Northern Ireland is going to absolutely crucial because she and her senior people are going to be so busy on the Ukraine crisis and the energy crisis,” said Mr Ahern.
“Realistically, the Foreign Secretary will probably be caught up in Ukraine nearly permanently, so the Secretary for Northern Ireland becomes the crucial thing. Who she puts into that and maybe who is the number two up there could be very important a well.”
He said civil service rumours suggest Ms Truss will meet the Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the next Intergovernmental Conference.
“That will probably set out the agenda,” he said.
“My own view is it is almost inevitable there will be one more try to see if the protocol can be dealt with through diplomacy and negotiation.
“There has been little or no negotiation since October last year; almost 12 months. There was a little bit of running around the table in February, but it was fairly useless and meaningless. So, I think that is going to be the crucial issue.”
Mr Ahern said there is a huge amount of stake for Ireland – and noted that a negotiated settlement is essential if we are to get the Northern Ireland institutions back up and running.
He said the only way to find an agreement is to convince the British Government that it can achieve the same things through negotiation as it can with the Northern Ireland Protocol legislation currently on its way to the House of Lords.
He said UK officials have spent the summer working out “all the areas where they need progress and how far they will go”.
“They know exactly where they’re prepared to go so there is one chance left in this,” he said.
Ms Truss is expected to be officially unveiled as UK Prime Minister this lunchtime.
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