Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin has paid tribute to his predecessor Bertie Ahern in his “truly remarkable work” in helping broker the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago.
Mr Martin made the comments at an event held in Dublin’s UCD to commemorate the role his Fianna Fail party played in the peace negotiations that led to a deal that would largely bring the Troubles to an end.
His praise comes after Mr Ahern rejoined Fianna Fail 10 years after quitting as efforts began within the party to expel him following the findings of a tribunal.
Despite a row between the two leaders as Mr Ahern left the party a decade ago, warm words were exchanged between them as they reflected on the peace deal which Mr Ahern is widely credited as helping broker.
Mr Ahern also addressed the crowd in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall on Tuesday night, where he described Mr Martin as “a fantastic taoiseach – you did this country a great service”.
He added that he “(appreciated) your quiet wisdom in Northern Ireland” and in “working harmoniously” with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, saying: “I know the agreement is in the hands of guardians who really cared and were protect it safely”.
“It pains us all that the institutions are down at the moment. But I think we fully understand why and hopefully before too long that we will get back to it. It might take a few months but I think we will,” he said.
Mr Martin then told the audience: “For every one of us, it was a privilege to serve in those days, and to support the truly remarkable work of taoiseach Bertie Ahern on behalf of our country.
“With the eyes of the world on him, and working hand in hand with two major international leaders in Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, he showed a skill and determination which helped deliver genuinely historic progress.
“And I witnessed along with (former taoiseach Brian Cowen) and others an incredible perseverance. He was, if he doesn’t mind me saying so, obsessed with the issue, and never gave up and persevered.
“This continued right up to the dramatic and once-unthinkable deal which brought Ian Paisley and his party to fully participate in the Executive created by the agreement.”
Mr Martin then also praised Mr Ahern’s patience in giving the late David Trimble, the leader of the UUP and the inaugural First Minister of Northern Ireland, time to make his decision.
He recalled a time when there were whispers within Cabinet about when Mr Trimble would make a decision, when Mr Ahern “hushed” the ministers and listed all the unionist leaders.
Mr Martin said that that was Mr Ahern’s way of showing the “extraordinary risks” that Mr Trimble was taking and that Mr Ahern had the “patience” to facilitate him in making the decision.
“We all know what happened after that,” Mr Martin said.