A Dáil committee has been told of missed investment opportunities in Northern Ireland due to ongoing uncertainty over the protocol.
“The first thing foreign investors are looking for, typically, is stability and there isn’t that stability at the moment,” said assistant secretary at the Department of An Taoiseach Aingeal O’Donoghue. She and others in the Shared Island Unit make the point “about potentially missed opportunities already”, she said.
The unit was established by Taoiseach Micheál Martin in October of last year to help harness the full potential of the Belfast Agreement.
Where the protocol was concerned "sometimes people use that phrase 'best of both worlds'. I'm not sure that's particularly helpful. The reality is that Northern Ireland has open access to the single market and that really is where we are positioning the kind of messages we are giving in terms of the trade opportunities," she said.
The unit is “engaged with Northern Ireland businesses, encouraging them to look at the benefits [of the protocol]”, she said.
She was responding to questions from members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement this afternoon.
Responding to questions from SDLP MP Claire Hanna about difficulties the unit may have encountered in the context of the protocol, Ms O'Donoghue said "it is difficult for us anyway to have a conversation in Northern Ireland at the moment where the protocol . . . creates challenges . . . I think it has been a more challenging backdrop than we had hoped."
Sensitivities on both sides
This was particularly so where “ the noise that has been created around the protocol”, was concerned, she said.
Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy asked why the talk was "of all-island, dropping the word Ireland" along with "Northern Ireland and Ireland. It's one country at the end of the day and I think separating the two like that makes people very uncomfortable?"
Ms O’Donoghue replied that “there are sensitivities in both directions and . . . I think that shared island captures the idea that we are together on one island with one set of opportunities, one set of shared challenges and that we need to work together to address them.”