Taoiseach Micheál Martin has sounded a cautiously optimistic note on the possibility of a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol, saying that there was now a “window of opportunity” for a new agreement.
Mr Martin was speaking on his way into the beginning of a two-day summit in Prague, which he said would be dominated by discussions on the war in Ukraine and the associated energy and cost of living crisis in Europe.
Leaders from the 27 EU states are meeting with leaders of a number of non-EU European countries, including the UK, whose prime minister Liz Truss is attending her first such international gathering. Ms Truss did not stop to speak to reporters as she entered Prague Castle, where the summit is being held.
Today’s broader meeting will be followed by an EU-only summit tomorrow, at which there are likely to be informal discussions on the protocol and the state of freshly restarted talks with the UK.
“It’s my view that there is a genuine wish on all fronts to have a negotiated resolution of all these issues. But I do we need to create space for that to happen, so I don’t intend to comment any further,” Mr Martin told reporters.
Asked if he thought the British Government was serious in the recent change of tone from London, Mr Martin reiterated that he believed there was a genuine wish in the UK to reach a negotiated solution. He said that would be difficult, “but I do believe there is good faith on all sides.”
His comments — especially his acceptance of British good faith — sounded a more positive note than many senior officials in Dublin and Brussels in recent days, who have suggested a “wait-and-see” attitude to the recent British outreach.
Asked if the British Government should pause the passage of the Northern Ireland protocol bill — which gives British ministers the power to legally suspend the protocol — Mr Martin said that having “daily commentary around any process can be problematic to say the least”.
“A window of opportunity is there, there are many different confidence measures that can be decided upon by various parties to these talks ... but fundamentally, if the will is there, issues can be resolved,” he said.
He said that all parties should “create space” for a resolution to be found.