Truss ‘adamant’ there will be elections in North if Executive not restored — Taoiseach

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris also said he will “push that button” and call an election election on October 28th if the Stormont institutions are not restored by then

British prime minister Liz Truss is “adamant” there will be elections in Northern Ireland if the Executive and Assembly are not restored, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin also told the Dáil that any negotiations between the EU and Britain should be given “space” and he warned against using language like “U-turns” as opposition TDs spoke of the British government’s reversal of the decision to cut the top rate of income tax.

The Taoiseach was responding to questions on his departmental area of responsibility. Mr Martin said that following his meetings with the British prime minister and president of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen “there is a preference on all sides for a negotiated settlement”.

He added: “And I would say let’s give the negotiations, if they commence, space.


“And I don’t think we should be using language like U-turns. We want a negotiated solution in the best interests of relationships between Europe and Britain in the first instance, and on the island of Ireland a harmonious trading relationship as well.”

A number of TDs raised questions about the Northern Ireland protocol, the state of relationships with Britain on Brexit and the potential for a settlement.

Mr Martin told his party’s European affairs spokesman Seán Haughey and Fine Gael’s Brexit spokesman Neale Richmond that “there is a chance to reset the relationship” with Britain. This has been badly affected by Britain’s Bill to dismantle the Northern Ireland protocol, which is still wending its way through Westminster.

He also said “I’ve pressed very strongly for the restoration of the Executive and the Assembly”.

He added that “prime minister Truss is very adamant that as far as she is concerned they should be restored”.

He said he could not give a timeline as to when negotiations would result in an outcome.

But he stressed that the British government “is of the view that if the Executive is not restored there will be elections”.

And the British prime minister “is adamant that that should happen”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has already pointed to a commitment by the new Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harrison to call elections if no progress can be made.

But the DUP has stressed it will not return to power sharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is abandoned.

Mr Martin warned that “there will be difficulties” if negotiations commence. “It’s not that simple but I think space should now be provided to allow an opportunity to get a negotiated settlement.”

Pressed by Sinn Féin’s Ruairi O Murchu the Taoiseach insisted that “the real dialogue is going on” through the Shared Island initiative. He said that some 3,000 people are now engaged in it in different sectors.

“I’m very strengthened by the youth dialogue that has occurred,” he said, adding that it was a long painstaking process because “building reconciliation and trust isn’t about just one assembly where people get into a room and it’s all solved”.

Through the Shared Island initiative €1 billion in funding was being provided for various projects “and that’ a very rich vein that we have developed”.

He said the British government had been contributing to some aspects of the initiative on issues of mutual interest.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party conference heard that the British government sees the prospect of a deal with the European Union on Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements within weeks as relations thaw following a protracted stalemate.

The government is optimistic a negotiated settlement can be reached “in the next few weeks”, now that talks have restarted, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said Tuesday at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that “the tone has improved”.

However, UK and EU officials are also due to meet later this week as part of the latest attempt to bring about a negotiated solution to the protocol impasse.

Current legislation states that Mr Heaton-Harris must call an election on October 28th if the Stormont institutions are not restored by then.

He told the BBC: “I am going to push that button.

“If there is no election, the executive is stumbling around in this stupor that it is now. It is really important to have an executive functioning. I think history tells us elections do change things in Northern Ireland.

“I exactly mean what I say and I will be calling an election on October 28th,” he said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times