Taoiseach says US interest in NI makes a difference at ‘delicate’ post-Brexit time

Martin tells US members of Congress protocol ‘only way’ to solve North’s complexities

US president Joe Biden spoke in glowing terms of his relationship with Ireland during the bilateral meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Video: Pool

The "eyes and interest" of the United States continue to "make a difference at a delicate time" for post-Brexit Northern Ireland, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the traditional Friends of Ireland St Patrick's Day event, Mr Martin told Irish-American politicians that there has been "deep appreciation of the importance of the balances and nuances" of Northern Ireland's Belfast Agreement in Washington since Brexit.

This was “an appreciation that we do not take for granted”, the Taoiseach said in an address that touched on the tensions caused by Brexit in the North and between the EU and UK.

Mr Martin said the Government always knew that the UK’s departure from the EU would “create strains and complications, especially in Northern Ireland”, and that the “voices” of Irish-American politicians within the caucus “helped pave the way” for the Brexit withdrawal deal.


The Northern Ireland protocol within that agreement was "an agreed, balanced compromise" and was "the only way" to manage complexities in Northern Ireland and to avoid a hard border.

“Implementing the protocol involves change and sometimes it takes time for people to adjust to new ways of doing things. The protocol has only been in operation since the start of the year,” Mr Martin said.

“I have always known that there would inevitably be bumps and wrinkles along the way. That is why the agreement itself contains mechanisms through which any difficulties can be resolved.”

For the protocol to succeed and deliver benefits for the people of Northern Ireland, there has to be a relationship between the UK and the EU “based on trust and good faith”, he said, in a reference to the tensions over the UK government’s decision to delay border checks for British businesses.

Proud member

In a video address, US president Joe Biden said that he was a proud member of the Friends of Ireland caucus when he was a US senator and paid tribute to his former colleagues who "tended to the flame of Irish-American relationships – a flame that glows ever brighter every single day".

Democratic congressman Richie Neal, a co-chair of the Friends of Ireland group, said in his online remarks that the 1998 Belfast Agreement underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process "remains the only way forward on the island of Ireland – there is simply no plan B".

Mr Biden quoted his favourite poet Seamus Heaney and his poem The Cure at Troy, which he has quoted in public for years, saying: "We have a chance to make hope and history rhyme."

The Friends of Ireland caucus of Irish-American politicians marks its 40th anniversary this year.

Normally the Taoiseach would attend the Friends of Ireland St Patrick’s Day lunch alongside the president at the US Capitol – one of only two occasions in Washington’s political calendar when the president travels to Capitol Hill – but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event online.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times