The Irish Times view on Anglo-Irish relations: The goodwill must endure
Good relationship that developed in recent decades underpinned efforts to get over Border challenges
The mood music that accompanied the meeting at Hillsborough Castle between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson was a hopeful sign that the relationship between the two leaders will have a positive impact on British-Irish relations in the years ahead. Photograph: Brian Lawless/AFP via Getty Images
The mood music that accompanied the meeting at Hillsborough Castle between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson was a hopeful sign that the relationship between the two leaders will have a positive impact on British-Irish relations in the years ahead. A number of important and potentially divisive issues between the two countries will have to be settled so it is vital that the “warm relationship” referred to by Johnson is maintained.
The British prime minister rightly pointed to the fact that so much of the progress on the island over the past three decades has been based on the improved relationship between the two countries and it was good to hear him commit to maintaining it. The Taoiseach adopted an equally positive tone but he did point to the fact that there were “challenging times ahead” in the effort to deal with Covid-19, Brexit and other issues.
Brexit will inevitably pose serious problems for both countries even if there is a relatively benign outcome with a trade deal between the EU and the UK by the end of the year. If a deal cannot be reached the difficulties will be far worse. Coming on top of the economic damage inflicted by Covid-19 a no-deal outcome is the last thing either country needs. Either way the implementation of the Irish protocol governing the economic relationship between Britain and Northern Ireland has the potential to cause serious strains between the two states so they will need to work closely together to ensure that its operation is as smooth as possible.
The good relationship between Ireland and the UK that developed in recent decades provided the underpinning for the efforts of Johnson and Leo Varadkar to get over the difficulties posed by the Border backstop last year. While Ireland is not directly involved in the talks on the future EU-UK trade relationship, Martin has a role to play in encouraging goodwill on both sides.
Goodwill will also be an important factor in the British government’s plans to mark the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland next year. Comments by Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis that it would represent an opportunity to celebrate Northern Ireland’s “integral place within our union” missed the point that a substantial proportion of the population never wanted to be part of that union in the first place.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster adopted a more nuanced approach, suggesting that the centenary should be an event for the whole of Northern Ireland, looking forward to the future. In the Republic, the Decade of Centenaries has provided an opportunity for an inclusive commemoration of the past with different traditions receiving equal respect. It is imperative that the establishment of the Northern state is marked in an equally sensitive fashion.