North-South Ministerial Council meeting results from Taoiseach trip

Micheál Martin makes first visit to Northern Ireland since his appointment

Taoiseach Micheál Martin with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont: “I want to work out in practical terms how we share this island together over the next while and beyond.”  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont: “I want to work out in practical terms how we share this island together over the next while and beyond.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Micheál Martin on his first visit to Northern Ireland as Taoiseach has agreed with the Stormont First Minister and Deputy First Minister to hold a North-South Ministerial Council meeting at the end of this month.

This will be the first time in more than three years that the council, which was established through the 1998 Belfast Agreement, is to meet.

It was mothballed during the three-year collapse of the Northern Executive and Assembly which were finally re-established in January.

Mr Martin said the meeting with Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill was “warm” and “very useful”. He also met the northern secretary Brandon Lewis.

He referred to the proposed “shared island” unit in the new Coalition’s programme for government which was designed to “look at how we share this island on an ongoing basis and into the future”.

In that context, he was delighted that the first ministerial council would take place on July 31st.

He said the meeting of the NSMC in turn would trigger a series of departmental meetings involving sectoral North-South Ministers to examine various issues and projects that could be developed to the benefit of both jurisdictions.

He said, “Overall I am very encouraged by the meetings that I have had and the engagements that I have had. They have been a warm set of meetings. There was a genuine desire on all sides to work closely together in a pragmatic way to the mutual benefit of all the people of different traditions of this island.”

Infrastructural projects

The Government – through January’s New Decade, New Approach deal that restored Stormont – is pledged to help finance infrastructural projects such as the A5 road from the Border at Aughnacloy to the Derry-Donegal border and the Narrow Water Bridge between Co Down and Co Louth.

“I will be an engaging, understanding Taoiseach, trying to keep people together and trying to move forward on the economic front in particular and also in terms of getting projects over the line that we have been talking about for some time,” he said.

Mr Martin also said the Northern Executive and Government had done a good job in suppressing Covid-19 to a “significant degree”. It was important, however, that both administrations worked to avoid a second and perhaps third surge of the virus.

Mr Martin repeated his opposition to a Border poll on a united Ireland in the near future, restating that such a move had the potential to be “very, very divisive”.

“I want to work out in practical terms how we share this island together over the next while and beyond,” he said.

Brexit damage

Mr Martin, who also met SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance senior figures, said it was also agreed with Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill that Brexit must not be allowed to damage the “economic fabric of the island”.

The two administrations would work together “in terms of minimising the economic disruption” of Brexit, he said.

He said too that after his election as Taoiseach he had a good discussion with British prime minister Boris Johnson where they agreed to “strategically review the British-Irish relationship in a post-Brexit environment”.

Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill told Mr Martin that a positive relationship between the two jurisdictions was in everyone’s interests.

Said Ms Foster, “I told the Taoiseach that I am keen to have positive dialogue during his tenure based on mutual respect for both jurisdictions and understanding of each other’s differences. I look forward to continuing that engagement in the future for the benefit of the people who live here.”

Added Ms O’Neill, “It is now six months since the restoration of the Executive and I made clear to Micheál that we must see delivery of all the Irish Government’s commitments in New Decade, New Approach. I look forward to working on a North-South basis to ensure those crucial funding and practical commitments are fulfilled as soon as possible.”