North’s leaders look forward to positive relationship with Taoiseach

Lack of northern appointment to Seanad ‘very unfortunate’, Michelle O’Neill says

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill:  Ms O’Neill believes Taoiseach Micheál Martin will visit Northern Ireland “over the course of the next number of days”. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill: Ms O’Neill believes Taoiseach Micheál Martin will visit Northern Ireland “over the course of the next number of days”. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

 

The North’s First and Deputy First Ministers have said they look forward to a positive relationship with the new Taoiseach following their first conversations with him since his appointment.

Both Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill congratulated Micheál Martin during phone calls on Monday.

Speaking at the Northern Executive’s media briefing on Monday, Ms Foster said she “looked forward to working with him on matters of mutual concern for both of our jurisdictions”.

“He is our nearest neighbour and it’s important that we have a good conversation and a good relationship so [we] very much look forward to that,” Ms Foster said.

Ms O’Neill said she “looked forward to working with” Mr Martin in terms of the commitments made by both the Irish and the UK government in the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored the North’s Assembly in January.”

‘Working relationships’

She said she raised the issue of the North-South Ministerial Council with the new Taoiseach, which she said “hasn’t met for some time”, adding she hoped that would be resolved “very speedily” and she hoped the meeting would be “an opportunity for us to get to know one another and form good working relationships in the time ahead”.

The Deputy First Minister also said she believed Mr Martin intended to visit Northern Ireland “at some stage over the course of the next number of days”.

Asked by The Irish Times about the lack of a northern or a unionist appointment by the new Taoiseach to the Seanad, Ms O’Neill said it was “very unfortunate”.

Both the unionist former senator Ian Marshall and the Co Derry campaigner Emma DeSouza – who forced the UK government to concede earlier this year that everyone born in Northern Ireland would be regarded as an EU citizen for immigration purposes – had been among the potential appointees.

‘Northern voices’

Ms DeSouza has criticised the lack of a northern appointment, saying that given the “great uncertainty and unprecedented challenges” of Brexit and the pressure this put on the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area, “Northern voices are needed now more than ever.”

Ms O’Neill described Mr Marshall’s previous appointment as “something that was very positive and very engaging and something that’s right and proper as we plan for what the future looks like here on this island.

“I certainly think it’s disappointing that one of the very first actions this new government has taken and it’s ignored the people of the North.”

Ms Foster said she did not have a view regarding the appointment of unionists to the Seanad “because of course we look to London and to the United Kingdom in relation to representation, we don’t look to the Republic of Ireland and Dublin.

“It is, of course, entirely a matter for the Taoiseach as to who he puts on to the Seanad as one of his 11 representatives, so it’s a matter for him and not really for me,” she said.