Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael merger possible, says Ahern

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin Image copyright Getty Images

A future merger between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is "possible", according to the former taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Bertie Ahern.

The parties have been political opponents dating back to the Irish civil war in the 1920s.

Along with the Green Party, they entered coalition government in June.

In a wide-ranging interview for BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback, Mr Ahern also said Stormont would, "in time", move to a system of voluntary coalition.

The former Fianna Fáil leader, who served as taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, said "times have changed" and a younger generation on both sides of the border had influenced shifts in Irish politics.

The Republic of Ireland, he said, was moving to a system of "three big parties", involving Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

"Young people are more educated now and people are travelling and I suppose those old ways of identifications are not what they were," he told Talkback.

"For the foreseeable future I think you're probably going to find Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael joining together, I think that's the way it will go.

"Where that goes maybe in twenty years time I don't know."

Mandatory coalition

Mr Ahern also said the Northern Ireland Executive could move to a voluntary coalition in future as "the voting habits of the past are changing".

The Stormont Executive is currently made up of five parties in a mandatory coalition.

Image copyright Executive Office
Image caption The DUP's Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill lead NI's Executive as first and deputy first ministers

"People are voting for new parties and people are looking for new issues," he continued.

"There are those changes and, I think, that will continue to evolve and then it'll become almost impossible to have a collective leadership.

"I think it would more normal and I think you'll find in time that that will happen."

Great friends

The interview, broadcast on 12 July, reminded Mr Ahern, he said, of the occasion he and the late Rev Ian Paisley, the former DUP leader, cut the ribbon to open a visitor and heritage centre at the site of the Battle of the Boyne in 2008.

"I, of course, had my arguments and historical arguments with the great reverend, but we ended up great friends," Mr Ahern told the programme.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley opened a visitor centre at the site of the Battle of the Boyne in 2008

"Baroness Eileen and the family, I grew to admire them, we worked together on the St Andrews Agreement and I kept in touch with him afterwards.

"We had that great day at the Battle of the Boyne because I always wanted for several years to try and turn that site into more than just fields.

"It was trying to move history on, 1690 was a long time ago.

"There is nothing wrong with celebrating these things, commemorating them, but at the same time we have to do it in a spirit of understanding each other.

"I built up that relationship with Ian and Eileen and I had a great regard for him," he added.

"It was a sad day when we lost him."

The interview in full can be heard on Talkback BBC Radio Ulster at 12:00 BST on 13 July and later on BBC Sounds.

More on this story