Taoiseach criticises ‘false narrative’ from UK on Brexit protocol

Martin tells Johnson any unilateral action would destabilise Northern Ireland

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has criticised what he called the "false narrative" from the British Government which claims that the European Union is being inflexible on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that "proper reciprocation" and "good faith" is needed to resolve the dispute over the part of the Brexit deal that prevents a hard Border in Ireland.

Mr Martin briefed TDs and Senators on the aftermath of the Assembly elections in the North and efforts to get a new Stormont Executive up and running.

He also updated them on the phone call he had with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson which he characterised as a "a frank and honest discussion on the blockages to progress".

Mr Martin said he told Mr Johnson that what is needed is a “proper and professional intensification” of EU-UK discussions on the implementation of the protocol.

He said he set out "in very clear terms my serious concerns about any unilateral action at this time" and his view that this would be the wrong approach, destabilising to Northern Ireland and would further erode trust.

Mr Martin relayed how he said progress on Northern Ireland can be achieved only when the UK and the Irish governments work together in common cause.

And he said: “I challenged and continue to challenge the false narrative that the EU commission is being inflexible on the protocol. This is simply untrue and must be challenged at every opportunity.”

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis had made such an argument in remarks to the BBC on Sunday.

Good faith

Mr Martin told his party that the EU's negotiator Maroš Šefcovic "continues to do extraordinary volume of work to make progress" and a package put forward by Brussels last year offered flexibilities and mitigations.

Mr Martin said: “What is required now is proper reciprocation of that effort and good faith.

“The two governments must work constructively together to get a functioning executive in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Martin said he had spoken to all party leaders in the North, that “each are coming from different perspectives but the stated desire to get the Assembly and Executive back to meaningful work has survived the election.”

He said he takes each leader at their word when they say they respect the outcome of the election and want to get back to work.

Separately, Minister of State for Finance Seán Fleming briefed colleagues on the banking sector and the departure of Ulster Bank and KBC from the Irish market.

The briefing was sought on the back of concerns politicians have been hearing from account holders about the need to switch to other banks.

It is understood Mr Fleming told the meeting that the terms and conditions of loans people have don’t change when they are sold on to other lenders.

He said that current methods for switching accounts are not up to modern methods but outlined how the remaining banks are hiring hundreds of staff to deal with the extra workload.

Mr Fleming said tens of thousands of people have opened new accounts with other Irish financial institutions this year.

The meeting was not told how many of the new accounts related to moves from Ulster Bank or KBC.

Mr Fleming said some 50,000 new accounts have been opened at Bank of Ireland, 30,000 with An Post, and a further 20,000 opened accounts with AIB. No figures were available from Permanent TSB.