Politics in the North should focus on ‘bread and butter issues’ – Taoiseach

Martin says NI politics should reflect public concerns, such as health services

The Taoiseach said he would not ‘weaponise’ the Irish language. File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The Taoiseach said he would not ‘weaponise’ the Irish language. File photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Politics in the North should reflect the “basic concerns” of the public for “bread and butter issues” including the restoration of health services, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

He said those concerns also included issues such as the development of integrated education, which he said should be advanced and promoted in the North.

Answering questions in the Dáil on Northern Ireland Mr Martin also stressed the “primacy of dialogue” to allow progress to be made in fulfilling the Belfast Agreement and New Decade, New Approach commitments.

He said it was “particularly important” with the election of new DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson for dialogue to “create space around the issues that matter”.

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Haughey suggested it was “a time for calm heads to dial down the rhetoric” and use dialogue not “megaphone diplomacy or unilateral demands”.

Mr Haughey referred to the latest Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey which found that approximately 42 per cent of people in the North define themselves as neither unionist nor nationalist, and many of the them were more liberal with a different outlook.

The Taoiseach agreed “there is an emerging and growing middle ground” with different perspectives on the future.

His sense was that “many people in Northern Ireland are concerned about bread and butter issues” and the most important issue was the restoration of health services, the same as in the Republic.

He said the Shared Island Initiative aimed to give platform to new voices and different perspectives on how the island should be shared.

That included giving a greater voice to young people and women in particular, whose voice had been strongest in achieving peace.

Under the initiative €500 million in funding had been ring-fenced and €13 million had been allocated to the Ulster canal, with funding as well for the Sligo-Enniskillen greenway.

He highlighted the mutual benefits of co-operation of third-level institutions north and south and said he hoped an east-west dimension could be developed on research.

Mr Martin acknowledged that the Northern Ireland protocol and Brexit had created challenges, but he said there were definite benefits for the North from the protocol.

“Agreements that have been reached should be honoured,” he said, adding that that included the Irish language. “I have never been one to weaponise the Irish language. I have taught Irish.”