“OK, you can say that the governments didn’t extract that from everyone in writing…”

Frank Millar has a book out from the Irish Academic Press called ‘Northern Ireland – A Triumph of Politics’ coming out this Autumn. In it he has a series of candid interviews with figures from Northern Irish politics over a considerable period of time. One of the most interesting is one with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who throws him a particularly juicy line of argument regarding that controversial deadline/timetable controversy:Giving his account of the vital negotiations preceding the DUP/Sinn Fein deal that saw the Rev Ian Paisley installed as First Minister, Mr Ahern tells Frank Millar:

“Paisley could never have made the move he made unless there was an acceptance that policing was going to work. And the Shinners could never have made the decision unless there was an acceptance of the devolution of policing. That was the quid pro quo, which is hugely important.”

With that issue left for new First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to resolve, Mr Ahern, in an interview recorded after he left office in May, emphasised his belief in a prior understanding between the two sides. “Just remember on that point, because I did that bit of the negotiations myself with Ian and with Gerry Adams,” he told the author, “and it was the quid pro quo”.

When asked if he feared Sinn Fein might be tempted to “flex muscle” and set an early “test” for the new Robinson leadership over issues like the devolution of policing and justice powers, Mr Ahern said he thought not, while repeating that “Sinn Fein had a cast iron guarantee that 1st May (2008) was the deadline’ for achieving it.

The chapter ‘Ireland at Peace’ continues: “(Millar) Cast iron? (Ahern) ‘It was absolutely crystal clear from the British Government and from everybody else.’ But from the DUP? ‘Everybody that would move… I mean there’s no doubt May was the date.’ Yet the DUP has consistently said it never signed up for May 2008? ‘Yeah, well, I mean listen,’ says Mr Ahern, clearly unimpressed with any protestations to the contrary now: ‘The devolution of policing from May was part of the deal in my view. OK, you can say that the governments didn’t extract that from everyone in writing but it was what the two governments agreed and everybody else agreed.”