Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he wants to see a rebuilding of relationships between Ireland and Britain, but labelled the lack of a functioning Executive in the North as “unacceptable”.
Mr Martin was speaking after a meeting of the British-Irish Council (BIC), which is made up of representatives from the UK and Irish governments as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the governments of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.
“I don’t want to comment on the internal political situation within Westminster or the government, but suffice to say in my view and from my own experience from the beginning of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement, that relationships between the two governments is key in underpinning the –– the agreement and the capacity of the agreement to evolve. We are in a temporary situation right now, a new prime minister will in due course be elected and I would like a return to the conduct of relationships between us in the spirit that characterised the beginnings of the Good Friday Agreement. What is challenging is, in my view, nothing excuses the absence of the Executive or Assembly. In earlier times in Northern Ireland when the Executive was pulled down by parties for different reasons I would have always said the failure to participate is not good enough and can never be justified. We have had too much start-stop. The people have spoken in Northern Ireland, they deserve a government.”
He said mechanisms exist for the resolutions of issues.
Asked whether there was a chance for a reset in British-Irish relations, Mr Martin said: “It is a matter of deep regret to me and to the Irish Government that the same level of alignment and engagement has not been happening in relation to Northern Ireland. I voiced my very serious concern at what I see as unilateral action in terms of [the Northern Ireland protocol] legislation which would disapply the application of the protocol in terms of UK legislation, and that is something that is not acceptable to the Irish Government, but more importantly we need to rediscover the principle of partnership.”
He said he was the then minister for education when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
“It was always based on trust, working together, giving each other a heads-up, and unfortunately the legislation that has recently been tabled flies in the face of the spirit of that partnership and engagement.”
Mr Martin said the European Union remains flexible, but that “unilateralism simply does not work”.
He said on a personal level that the outgoing British prime minister Boris Johnson had gone through a very difficult few weeks and he wished him the best.
The UK delegation at the council meeting was led by Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns.
Mr Martin briefed the BIC on his recent visit to Ukraine and the terrible devastation inflicted on that country by the Russian invasion. He welcomed the partnership between the EU and the UK in responding to the war on Ukraine.
He also briefed the meeting on the Shared Island Initiative, including a recent allocation of €70 million for Shared Island investment projects.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon also held a number of meetings at the summit, including with Mr Martin, the first minister of Wales, and the chief ministers of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Wight.
On the agenda was the cost-of-living crisis, climate change, support for the people of Ukraine, and the Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as urban planning to regenerate towns.