EU and UK must work together on North, says Taoiseach

Martin acknowledges unionist anger, but little prospect of agreement being reopened

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said everyone is on the one page to stop the violence, reduce tensions and avoid any escalatio. Photograph: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said everyone is on the one page to stop the violence, reduce tensions and avoid any escalatio. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the EU and UK need to work together to overcome the difficulties with the Northern Ireland protocol, which have inflamed unionist and loyalist opinion and contributed to a week of rioting on the streets of the North.

Speaking after discussion with Northern Irish leaders, including First Minister Arlene Foster, Mr Martin acknowledged the unionist hostility to the protocol and said he had “appraised Brussels of the sensitivities” in the North.

“EU and UK dialogue is needed,” Mr Martin said. “That’s very much where it’s at. Ireland is willing to help in any way we can.”

The difficulties could be addressed through the existing structures in the withdrawal treaty, he added.

Mr Martin spent much of yesterday speaking to the leaders of the Northern Irish parties, including Ms Foster and leader of the UUP Steve Aiken, about the unrest in Northern Ireland over the past week. “We are in listening mode,” he said.

He said there was broad agreement on a “basic set of principles”, which included the need for dialogue, to protect the powersharing institutions and “working through any of the issues that are there”.

“Everyone is on the one page to stop the violence, reduce tensions and avoid any escalation,” he said.

He welcomed the statements from the Executive condemning the violence as “constructive and a credit to all sides”.

However, there was no agreement about the issue that has aroused so much unionist anger and unrest – the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Earlier this week, while consistently condemning the nightly riots, Ms Foster told a think-tank discussion the protocol had contributed to [the riots] because people felt they were being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Ms Foster’s criticisms of the protocol, though she previously said she would implement it as part of British law, have been echoed by unionists and loyalists throughout the week – and before it.

Mr Martin said that although he understood unionist concerns about the protocol, he did not believe that it should be elevated to the status of a constitutional issue.

The view in Dublin, however, is that there is no prospect of the agreement being renegotiated, and the UK government has made no such request.

‘Very troubling’

Earlier yesterday Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the scenes of violence in Belfast were “very very troubling for all of us”.

“Any violence on the streets is completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for it,” she said. Ms McDonald also suggested loyalist rioters were attempting to draw nationalist youths into street conflict.

“What is clear is that this violence has been orchestrated and planned,” she said. “What began as unrest and trouble in individual loyalist neighbourhoods has now been focused very deliberately on the interface areas down at the peace lines, and this has been done very cynically in order to stoke up maximum tension, undoubtedly to provoke retaliation and left a lot of people very anxious and very frightened.”

She urged political leaders to “reassert the primacy of politics”.

“There’s a particular necessity for the leadership of unionism and loyalism to speak very clearly and unequivocally,” Ms McDonald told reporters at Leinster House.

“The proposed protest for the weekend must be cancelled, and that message needs to come from all of us but particularly it needs to be heard loud and clear from the leadership of the DUP, from all the unionist parties and from the loyalist organisations, and I’m calling on them today to unequivocally call for the cancellation of all further protests. We do not need more protests, more violence on our streets. Whatever people’s concerns, there are processes through which they can be worked.”

Ms McDonald also urged the two governments to become involved. “This requires more than a phone call between Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin,” she said.

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