Ireland and the United Kingdom need to “move beyond dispute” and enter “a new phase of our relationship underpinned by mutual trust”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
The Fianna Fáil leader said that while Brexit has fundamentally altered the relationship between Ireland and the UK, “we must never forget the breadth and depth of the British-Irish relationship.”
“It is about trade, finance, investment, energy, agriculture and food. Equally, it is about culture and arts, geography and history, but most importantly, it is about enduring personal connections and family relationships.”
He was speaking at the launch of a new book, Ireland’s Call: Navigating Brexit, by Irish Times columnist and former political editor Stephen Collins. The book details the chronology of how Brexit unfolded, examining the position from the Irish, British and European sides.
Mr Martin told the launch, which took place in Dublin, that he has detected a “genuine view” across all parties now for a negotiated agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol, as technical talks between the EU and UK look set to begin.
“By any measure, this has been a defining period in Irish, EU and UK history,” Mr Martin told the event.
“As soon as David Cameron announced his intention to hold a referendum should his party win the 2015 election, I and my party started talking about the scale of disruption and damage which this would cause. It was always clear that there would be deep damage, but the scale of it has gone beyond any of the predictions issued before the vote.”
Mr Martin also told the gathering that while it is important to understand that there is a pro-EU consensus in the democratic centre and amongst the majority of the population, it is “not something we should take for granted.”
“The fact is that Ireland has one of the strongest anti-EU factions in its membership of the European Parliament – voices who absolutely consistent in their willingness to attack everything the Union does and to blame it for anything negative in the world.”
He said he believed it was “long past time for the public sphere in Ireland to acknowledge that there are important choices to be made in relation to our position in Europe and that there are very clear differences between parties who are instinctively positive towards the Union and those who have spent 50 years attacking it.”
Mr Martin also paid tribute to Mr Collins and said that throughout his career, he was “known for his ability to step back from the sound and fury of the hour by hour political circus and look for perspective.”
Mr Collins said it was the political story of his lifetime given the immense ramifications of Brexit and that when he wrote the book, he did not expect that the tensions over the UK’s exit from the EU would still be ongoing.