By James Ward, PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called for a “reset” of the relationship between the UK and the EU to resolve issues stemming from the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Martin lamented the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the bloc and the UK following rows over Brexit and the supply of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland post-Brexit, has caused unrest among both unionists and loyalists, who have called for it to be scrapped.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Martin said he has told the EU the bloc’s relationship must be “constructive”.
He said: “I think we need to reset the relationship.
“I’ve made it very clear to our European Union partners that the British-Irish relationship is a unique one, historically rooted.
“We’re both joint custodians of the [Good Friday] Agreement and nothing can come between us in respect of making sure that we work constructively together.
“That’s our aim and our objective as a Government – to maintain a constructive relationship with Britain.”
The Taoiseach said he has argued that “the only future has to be a constructive UK-EU relationship”.
The relationship, already damaged by Brexit, deteriorated further due to the EU’s brief suspension of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a row over vaccines.
The UK also suspended elements of the protocol unilaterally, by suspending customs checks on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland, a move dubbed “silly” by Mr Martin.
The Taoiseach said the EU has already done a lot to “facilitate the uniqueness” of the protocol, but acknowledged there is “work to be done… to see what we can fine-tune”.
He called for the use of special committees to tackle difficulties arising from the protocol, which have been provided for under the Withdrawal Agreement.
He said: “We’ve got to try to work those committees to see, can we deal with those issues and make life as easy as possible for businesses.”
Despite these setbacks, Mr Martin believes the relationship can get back on track.
“I think it makes sense for Britain that it really works on its relationship with the EU. The EU is ready to engage,” he said.
He told the paper that UK officials have been more constructive in recent weeks.
The move towards a “win-win” deal on the supply of Covid-19 vaccines across Europe and the UK is a “very important” sign, he added.