There is need to ‘create space’ for discussions regarding NI protocol, Taoiseach says

Micheál Martin was speaking while attending launch of Tommie Gorman’s autobiography

The Taoiseach has said there is a need to “create space” for discussions on the future operation of the Northern Irish protocol between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Micheál Martin was speaking on his way into the launch of the autobiography of former RTÉ journalist Tommie Gorman, Never Better: My Life in Hard Times, in Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday evening.

Mr Martin said that “people need space now, basically” and that “we just need to create space for everybody to concentrate and focus on getting a resolution to this, and I am satisfied that all sides would prefer a negotiated solution”.

Speaking on his way into the same event, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar welcomed recent comments from Steve Baker saying they were “very welcome (but) unexpected”, and adding that he was “not sure how significant they are or not”.

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“What we’d like to see from the British Government is meaningful engagement on the detail of the arrangements that we might put in place to make sure the protocol functions better,” Mr Varadkar said, adding that the protocol in its current form “works”, pointing to the absence of a hard border and the protection of the integrity of the single market. He conceded that this was the case even though the protocol hasn’t been fully implemented.

“There’s room for manoeuvre, there’s room for compromise. What I’d like us to do now is to get down in detail,” he said.

Mr Gorman’s book was launched by the Taoiseach, who praised it as a “insightful and uplifting” read by “one of Ireland’s most esteemed journalists” who was “One of the most familiar faces on Irish television”. He said Mr Gorman had a unique capacity to win the trust of sources and that his reporting and his book had shone a light on Ireland, and that the autobiography “captures Tommie’s essence — that’s why it’s so delightful”.

Paying tribute to Mr Gorman’s reporting career, Mr Martin said “you ensured that people knew about and understood the detail” of the Good Friday Agreement and had an “eye for the human detail around the process” and a “feel for the personal relationships” which meant that he could build the trust that was key to good journalism. He quoted a citation from former President Mary McAleese for Mr Gorman dating to 2001, praising his reporting from Brussels as having a “crisp authority” and an instinct for what was happening in the EU “both onstage and behind the scenes”.

Mr Gorman, who has suffered from a rare form of cancer for more than 20 years — neuroendocrine tumours — paid tribute to his consultant endocrinologist Prof Dermot O’Toole, who also spoke at the event. The launch was attended by a wide variety of people from across the worlds of politics and media. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald was also in attendance, as was Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.

Former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan, RTÉ chief executive Dee Forbes and RTÉ journalists past and present attended, including Charlie Bird, Brian Dobson, Seán O’Rourke, Mark Little, Eileen Dunne and Samantha Librieri. The Taoiseach was welcomed to TCD by provost Linda Doyle.

Former president of DCU and chair of the vaccine taskforce Prof Brian MacCraith was in attendance, as was former Senator, TCD academic and banking inquiry member Seán Barrett.

Mr Gorman said the launch was a “unique occasion” and paid tribute to his family, including his late sister Paula, colleagues from journalism, including those who had died who he worked with across his career, including former Irish Times education editor Seán Flynn and RTÉ colleagues Mary Campbell, Keelin Shanley and Mike Burns.

“A book gives you a chance to put down on paper what’s important to you,” he said, and spoke of “what I’ve had the privilege to witness during my working life” from the western Journal to RTÉ. “It seemed like a miracle”, he said, when pay packet arrived every fortnight early in his career. He praised RTÉ which he said “allowed me ... to witness history evolving in a very meaningful way”, saying that the ‘Never Better’ alluded to in his title was “because of what I saw”. Speaking of his reporting from Brussels, he said that Europe was the “liberating force in our development as a people” praising the impact of the European social fund and the impact of membership on the agricultural sector.

He said in Europe, Ireland emerged as “the island behind the bigger island”. He spoke of how the German reunification deal was sealed at Dublin Castle and how Europe “provided us with the opportunity to create our unique corporation tax structure”.

He said his time reporting from Belfast as RTÉ's Northern Editor was a “wonderful time”. It was “fantastic” to see how “even in people you fear, and rightly so,” there was a “decent streak”.

“We can never forget that the GFA helped to deliver the miracle of peace. The killing has stopped, and that is the miracle of our times, and sometimes we take miracles for granted,” he said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times