By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Taoiseach Bertie Ahern believes unity will be achieved with consent of people in Northern Ireland within his lifetime.
Ahern, whose 48, expects people North and South to vote for unity in future constitutional referenda.
He believed the creation of a united Ireland was unlikely within 10 to 15 years but accepted there was an irresistible dynamic working toward unification.
"Ten to 15 years might be too short, but I’ve said I believe it will be in my lifetime," he told RTE last week.
Ahern said he had only recently discussed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the fact that the Republic had made a "big move" in accepting the concept of consent, removing any fear that unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland might have had.
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"They know that any changes, any developments into the future, will only happen based on they making the decision," Ahern said.
It is up to republicans in the south who would like to see unity to convince people in Northern Ireland that it was a better system than political devolution within the United Kingdom.
Blair will make an historic official visit to the Republic this week. He will become the first UK prime minister to address both the Dail and the Seanad — and the first non-head of state to speak to both houses.
Ahern described as "immense" the level of cooperation that was already going on on an all-Ireland basis in non-political areas.
"I would hope that in the fullness of time that people will see that it is working together on this island that will make more sense than looking to Westminster and that people will move away from that," Ahern said.
He said that if the progress being made was built on properly, "then when people come to make a decision in 15 years time or so, they would say this isn’t a bad structure. . . If we can keep violence out of it, keep away from military action by either loyalism or republicanism then people will look at these things in a different way in the future."
People in the South must work on areas of cooperation and new political structures to build up trust and confidence on the island.
Ard fheis address
Ahern was interviewed after he addressed his first Fianna Fail Ard Fheis as Taoiseach. He received a rapturous reception from the party faithful during his lengthy presidential address, during which he called for a new concept of republicanism that must sustain "not only an independent Ireland, but an agreed Ireland."
"Our conception of Republicanism has been perhaps too narrow in the past," he said.
He said the Good Friday agreement was the best chance for the island that would people would see in their lifetime.
"It is our determination to make it work, and to see the will of the people implemented, on an inclusive basis," her said. "There can be no more ghettos, no more second-hand citizens, no more trampling down of human rights and dignity, but also no more sectarian or political murders, no more punishment beatings."
He said the creation of a reformed and impartial policing service, drawn from the entire community was an "absolutely vital requirement" for a better future.
The taoiseach said the "original title deeds" of the Irish Republic, from 1798 and again in 1848 when the tricolor was first raised, belonged not just to one tradition, but to all.
"The people of Northern Ireland want to enjoy the same bright future as ourselves," he said. "We must help them achieve that goal, not out of any selfish political interest but in a spirit of friendship and respect for difference. We cannot determine their future for them.
"A peaceful Ireland will be a prosperous Ireland, and the spirit of friendship will finally prevail throughout the entire island. That is a dream within our grasp."