Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has called on young people to educate themselves about the profound trauma of the Troubles, in light of the recent controversy surrounding rebel songs performed by the Wolfe Tones at Electric Picnic.
The six-decade-old band played to a record crowd at the weekend festival, just a month after band member Brian Warfield clashed with Joe Duffy on RTÉ’s Liveline, where the presenter accused the Wolfe Tones of glorifying violence through their music.
Videos circulating on social media show thousands of festivalgoers chanting ‘Ooh, Ah, Up The Ra’ along with band members during the performance, which marked the largest crowd ever recorded at the Electric Arena in the festival’s 19-year history.
Mr. Ahern, speaking on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder, emphasized that young people should continue to sing these songs but also encouraged them to educate themselves about the complex history of the Troubles.
He pointed out, “There were 3,700 lives lost and tens of thousands of bombings and shootings, which tarnished our reputation globally.” He highlighted that tourism and investment were nearly nonexistent during the Troubles, leading to significant emigration in 1987, the same year the song ‘Celtic Symphony’ was written.
While Mr. Ahern expressed his fondness for the Wolfe Tones and his history of attending their concerts since the 1960s, he emphasized that the Irish Women’s National Soccer Team, asked by Sky Sports to apologize for singing Wolfe Tones songs, as well as those seen at Electric Picnic, were simply singing out of joy.
Rather than fixating on a single line in a song sung to a new generation born after the Good Friday Agreement, Mr. Ahern believes it is more important to provide an understanding of the facts surrounding the Troubles.
Mr. Ahern played a pivotal role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 1998, bringing an end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
When asked whether young people should refrain from singing pro-rebel songs, he replied, “You can’t stop people from singing; they’ll only sing even more.”
The 71-year-old reiterated his desire for a harmonious coexistence in both the north and south of Ireland, stressing his opposition to sectarianism and bonfires, which he believes do not contribute positively to the situation.
He concluded, “You won’t achieve a United Ireland or a new Ireland if we can’t move past these issues and work together. That’s the reality of it. We shouldn’t let hatred or bitterness linger. Sometimes, certain things should take a back seat, with songs on one side and politics on the other.