Martin says changes to checks on animals may offer way to ease protocol pressures

Taoiseach was speaking after two-day British-Irish Council meeting in Co Fermanagh


Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described the commitment by US president Joe Biden that any future veterinary agreement with the EU will not imperil its relationship with the UK as “significant intervention”.

“It’s a significant point for the UK government in terms of its capacity to do trade deals in a post-Brexit world,” Mr Martin said on Friday following Mr Biden’s comments at the G7 summit in Cornwall.

He was speaking at a press conference after the conclusion of the two-day British-Irish Council meeting in Lough Erne resort in Co Fermanagh.

The meeting in her native Co Fermanagh marked the last official engagement of outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster.

During a press conference at the end of the summit, reflecting on her recent ousting, she sang lines from the song ‘That’s Life’: “Riding high in April, Shot down in May.”

The other Ministers present at the conference paid tribute to her but said they were confident the institutions would continue to operate under her successor as first minister, Paul Givan, and new DUP leader Edwin Poots.

Deputy First Minister Michelle 0’Neill said Sinn Féin has always believed in power-sharing. Mr Martin said he was a “half glass full” politician and believed the process would continue and the institutions of the Belfast Agreement would be protected.

Both Mr Martin and senior British minister Michael Gove said the levels of trust between both governments over the Northern Ireland protocol remained high and were confident that difficulties in relation to the issue could be overcome.

The high levels of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks imposed on live animals at Northern posts have been a source of friction between the UK and the EU in relation to the operation of the protocol.

An agreement where the UK could come into closer alignment with EU standards could dramatically reduce the number of checks on animal origin goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.

“I think if the US is saying that arriving at a SPS agreement does not in any way negatively impact the potential of US and UK trading, that definitely offers potential for progress here,” said Mr Martin.

On the issue of trust between Dublin and London, Mr Martin said he knew where President Biden was coming from. “He wants to restore the transatlantic relationship between the US and the EU, and the UK,” the Taoiseach said.

“He sees the UK, the EU and the US as aligned on fundamental values around democracy and free speech and opposed to growing authoritarianism in respect of other blocks.

“He does not want to see the UK and the EU going in different directions. He wants it resolved. I thought his suggestion was a helpful one.

“If we keep the big picture in front of us. I think we can resolve the issues. I think there are mechanisms through which the issues can be resolved.”

Mr Martin said he hoped the two negotiators, British minister David Frost and EU Commissioner Maroš Šefcovic could now pick up momentum.

Mr Gove said that some of the challenges had been resolved but some needed to be tackled.

“I believe there is a willingness on behalf of pragmatic figures within the EU to make sure that we can make these arrangements work so that they do not impact on the lives of people across communities in Northern Ireland.

“The Irish Government is using its best endeavours in order to proceed in a pragmatic and structured way.”

The council participants included the Irish and British governments, the devolved governments in the UK, as well as the Channel Island and the Isle of Man.