British children should be taught Irish history, says former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says British children should have to learn Irish history in schools to counter the “sheer ignorance” displayed by leading politicians who support Brexit.

In particular, he believes a “crash course” is needed in the reasons why Ireland was partitioned to create Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mr Ahern was speaking at a celebration of the centenary of the 1918 General Election in which Sinn Fein candidates won a landslide victory and then boycotted the British parliament to set up the Dail instead, a move that eventually led to Irish independence.

Bertie Ahern

While lamenting the downgrading of history in Irish schools he said: “In this regard, I am tempted to say that the compulsory teaching of Irish history should also be included on the syllabus in Britain.

“One of the many major disappointments of the Brexit debate is the sheer ignorance – and sometimes arrogance – of the realities of Irish history and Irish political affairs, as expressed by some Brexiteers.”

Mr Ahern added that there were “some former Eton and Oxford students…contributing vocally if not sensibly to the Brexit debate, who could do with a crash course in the lessons of Irish history”. He did not give names but it’s hard to imagine that Jacob Rees Mogg and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson were not forefront in his mind.

Mr Ahern, together with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was one of the key figures in drawing up the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland. He now fears that peace could be threatened by the actions of the hard Brexiters pushing for a No Deal Brexit that could lead to the return of a hard border between the North and the Republic.

“Nobody here needs reminding that our generation has borne witness to the tragic results of a conflict that has cost thousands of lives and caused colossal damage and disturbance to the lives of many more people, holding back the natural progress of a whole society and indeed an entire island.

“It has been in human terms one of the most costly history lessons, one that we should have been able to steer clear of or at any rate cut short.”

Mr Ahern also used the speech to pay tribute to the former SDLP leader John Hume, another key figure in the Peace Process.

“The idea for concurrent referendums, North and South, and to build democratic consensus around the Good Friday Agreement belonged to John Hume and I was very glad to help implement this idea.

“John was always an astute politician with a huge intellectual depth and someone deeply read in Irish history. He saw the dangers of militant Irish nationalism being irreversibly wedded to a long expired and disputed mandate, given in the 1918 general election. He wanted to empower a new generation to write and shape their own version of history.

“And for John Hume and for me, this had to be underpinned by a fair and honourable accommodation between unionists and nationalists based on partnership, co-operation and mutual respect – in relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain.”

“It is this generation’s duty to ensure that we leave a lasting political framework on this island, which will mean no one will ever again have to fight or die for Ireland’s sake and that all of the people on this island can live in peace, prosperity and harmony.”