Taoiseach defends decision not to consult Britain before waiving Ukrainian visa requirements

Micheál Martin said Britain should understand that Ireland was acting as part of EU

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended his decision not to consult Britain before agreeing to waive visa requirements for people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. The British government, which has taken a more restrictive approach to the refugee crisis, has complained privately that it should have been consulted because of the implications for the Common Travel Area.

Speaking in London on Saturday ahead of a meeting with Boris Johnson, the Taoiseach said Britain should understand that Ireland was acting as part of the European Union.

"Europe acts in concert as the European Union, and I think the UK would have been well aware of the direction of travel of the European Union in respect of this measure…The most important prerequisite from the European Union perspective is unity, absolute unity between the 27 member states," he said.

“It was never on that we would be acting outside of the European Union approach to this. I want to make that very clear. I’m very clear about that, that’s the most important principle that we must really maintain throughout this crisis is unity of the 27 member States. And I’ll be doing everything I possibly can to ensure that. And I walk towards that at every meeting.”

The Taoiseach and the prime minister are due to watch the Six Nations match between Ireland and England together at Twickenham ahead of a discussion of the situation in Ukraine, British-Irish relations and the Northern Ireland protocol. Mr Martin said the war in Ukraine had highlighted the importance and the logic of a strong, constructive partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

But he suggested that a breakthrough on the protocol was unlikely ahead of next May’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.

“Given the improved relationship between the UK and the EU as a result of the partnership on Ukraine, I would like to think that in the fullness of time we will be able to resolve this issue, but we’ll take it step by step. There’s a channel there between the European Union and United Kingdom that’s ongoing and we’re going to take this step by step,” he said.

The Taoiseach acknowledged the impact of the war in Ukraine on Ireland’s economy and particularly on fuel prices and he said reports of price gouging would be pursued.

"The Consumer and Competition Authority is the agency with the resources and the legal competency to pursue complaints of any price fixing or of any gouging that was going on, but in particular in terms of price fixing. Complaints have been made. It's now for the authority to investigate and pursue those complaints, and if any such action did take place or is to take place, in my view that would be morally reprehensible. There have been meetings between the association and ministers, and those engagements will continue," he said.