It would be “undemocratic” if the DUP refused to form an Executive after this week’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has said.
"I think there's an obligation on parties to take their seats, and I would appeal to all parties irrespective of the outcome in the election to take their seats and form an Executive. That's very, very important," Mr Martin said in an interview with The Irish Times.
Asked if it would be undemocratic not to take their seats and form an executive, Mr Martin said: “Yes. Fundamentally I believe that. I’ve always been a strong critic – even when Sinn Féin brought down the Executive and Sinn Féin didn’t like my attacks on them at the time – equally I’m critical of the DUP for not enabling the Executive to function fully at the end.”
The DUP has said the party will not form an Executive unless the protocol is reformed or scrapped, though serving in an administration which was headed by a nationalist first minister – if Sinn Féin becomes the largest party – would also be difficult for some unionists to stomach.
Polls show that Sinn Féin is on course to become the largest party at Stormont in Friday's elections. However, an Executive can only be formed if the largest unionist party – likely to be the DUP – is willing to join the powersharing administration.
Attitudes among voters
Mr Martin said he believed attitudes among voters in the North were changing and they would no longer be satisfied with parties who refused to take part in government. He cited the lack of nationalist representation in Westminster – because of Sinn Fein’s policy of abstention – during Brexit, saying there was “no fight in the corner on Brexit”.
“So there may be a very strong message coming to all politicians. We expect you to take your seats, we expect you to work for the issues that matter to us,” Mr Martin said.
He said that there is "an emerging generation that wants politics to work for them" in Northern Ireland. He said voters wanted politicians to deliver on "bread and butter" issues.
However, Mr Martin acknowledged that there were still issues to be resolved on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Martin said he had good relations with British prime minister Boris Johnson but that exchanges between Dublin and London were dominated by the protocol issue. "It's all still on the protocol," he said.
Mr Martin was also critical of Sinn Féin and other Opposition groups for their opposition to Government attempts to phase out the burning of turf in the Republic, saying that it was “public health issue” that air quality was improved.
Mr Martin was also critical of Sinn Féin for what he said was the party’s “on-off relationship with the Good Friday agreement” and its calls for a Border poll. “It’s all about slogans and a lack of substance,” he said.
Mr Martin reiterated his calls for a debate on Irish neutrality, saying that the security of the EU was threatened and this was an important issue for Ireland.
Mr Martin said that the transition in Government at the end of the year – when he swaps the taoiseach's office with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and becomes tánaiste – is "an important moment to demonstrate that in a fragmented political system we can have continuity in government, that we can have this transfer but that the cement really is the Programme for Government."
“I’m investing a lot of thought to making sure that happens properly and in a way that adds to the solidity of Government,” he said.