Northern Ireland protocol should be implemented ‘sensitively’, says Taoiseach

Micheál Martin says there is ‘no excuse for violence or illegality’ in Brexit fallout

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government wants the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented “sensitively” and in a way that impacts on communities as little as possible, the Taoiseach told business leaders in the North on Thursday.

Micheál Martin also addressed the recent disorder in parts of the North and said it was “essential that calm, measured and positive leadership be exercised at every level for all of the people of Northern Ireland”.

“There are democratic, there are legal means available to address everyone’s concerns, whether they relate to policing in Northern Ireland, Brexit or any other issues,” he said. “There is no excuse for violence or illegality. The only way forward is through dialogue, and working the institutions of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement.”

The Taoiseach was the guest speaker at a business briefing hosted by the Northern Ireland of Chamber of Commerce in Belfast on Thursday.

He told members Brexit had been a “shock for many people all over the island” and had caused “teething issues” and a lot of paperwork “everywhere, and particularly between the United Kingdom and the EU and Ireland, and we’re all having teething issues.”

Four months into Brexit, he said lessons had to be learnt about “how it has manifested in real terms on businesses” and the focus should now be on how to minimise that.

“I do agree that we need to have very practical solutions and I think we need to be creative about it and understand also that ... on one level the threat to the single market perhaps isn’t as some might suggest it is, in terms of goods going from the UK into Northern Ireland, on the other hand there are real issues there in terms of how trade is conducted once the UK left the European Union. ”

The Taoiseach said his sense of the talks between the EU and the UK was that they “could yield some outcomes”, though this might take time. But he believed there was scope within the talks between the UK and the EU to “iron out some of these issues, minimise the difficulties and the bureaucracy attached to all of this.”

‘Real opportunities’

In achieving this, he said, trust and a “joint commitment to a desired outcome” were essential. “I think if that can happen, a lot is possible,” he said, adding that – in reference to actions by the UK government – “unilatateralism isn’t helpful, if I’m honest, in terms of implementation of the protocol of otherwise.”

However, he stressed the protocol offered “real opportunities” for Northern Ireland and urged its members to “work creatively and collaboratively” to develop them by taking advantage of access to EU and UK markets.

Asked about the possibility of an all-Ireland Covid-19 response plan, the Taoiseach said he was “not going to pretend it hasn’t been challenging to have absolute alignment” North and South, but the authorities in both jurisdictions engaged on a regular basis and “keep each other informed.”

While the difference in the pace of the vaccination programmes and the earlier easing of restrictions in the North meant there would not be “perfect alignment or anything like that in the next number of weeks ... we are moving at pace now and I think both North and South can look forward to reopening in a cautious and phased way of restrictions as long as the numbers keep where they are at the moment, and the vaccination continues to roll out.”

He also said there would have to be specific discussions with the UK government in regard to the EU’s digital green cert and how this would interact with the Common Travel Area.

The Taoiseach also emphasised his commitment to high-profile cross-border infrastructure projects such as the Ulster Canal, the Narrow Water Bridge and a high-speed rail link between Dublin and Belfast, with £500m in capital funding from the Shared Island Fund ring-fenced for North-South investment over the next five years.

“I really want to move from aspiration to action in terms of these projects and getting them done, so those projects that offer the best opportunity of completion, of being shovel-ready, so to speak, we won’t waste time in funding them from the Shared Island Fund, I can guarantee you that,” he said.