By Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach has said the DUP’s threat to collapse Stormont institutions if changes to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol are not delivered has “created new challenges”.
Micheál Martin said the European Union is in solution mode, and wants to operate within the agreed arrangements to make the protocol work.
Jeffrey Donaldson announced on Thursday his party’s immediate withdrawal from cross-border political institutions established on the island of Ireland under the Good Friday peace agreement.
Speaking in Co Cavan, Mr Martin said he is fully committed to maintaining the Good Friday Agreement.
Pleased to welcome @EU_Commission Vice President @MarosSefcovic to Government Buildings tonight.
Good chance to discuss the Protocol and plans to build a stronger, more resilient Europe. pic.twitter.com/5HZgYAl4LL
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) September 8, 2021
The Fianna Fáil leader met the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic ahead of his visit to Northern Ireland.
Mr Martin said they had a “very good comprehensive discussion” on Wednesday evening.
“In terms of the meeting I had with vice-president Sefcovic last evening and meetings I had on the weekend, with the UK side, I am clear that Europe is in solution mode, and that Europe wants to work hard within the existing arrangements to make the protocol work for the people of Northern Ireland,” Mr Martin said.
“I hope that vice president Sefcovic went up today to listen and engage. From our perspective, we have listened to party views and met with all the other parties on this issue.
“What is clear is I think all parties would like to see a streamlining and more flexible operation of the protocol. The UK government is saying to me that they want to get a solution.”
Mr Donaldson issued the warning on the future of Stormont in a keynote address in Belfast on the same day that vice-president Sefcovic began a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that “no positive agenda” is served by breaking down the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
He said: “We take unionist concerns in relation to the protocol seriously and we have consistently sought to listen and engage with those concerns, just as we have with the perspectives of everyone across Northern Ireland.
“The Taoiseach and Tánaiste met with Jeffrey Donaldson to discuss these issues in detail in the last two weeks.
“However, no positive agenda is served by blocking practical north/south co-operation or by the breakdown of the other institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The North South Ministerial Council has an important agenda this autumn, including on improving health services, managing environmental challenges, cooperating in education and investing in infrastructure.
“As we emerge from the Covid pandemic, we should be focused on working together to support communities and businesses across the island.”
Bertie Ahern appeal
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern appealed for the DUP not to wreck the political institutions of Northern Ireland.
Mr Ahern, who was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, said that the Irish Government is not the driving force of the Brexit negotiations.
“I understand what he (Mr Donaldson) is saying but there’s a process and it’s a very complicated process of dealing with Brexit and undertaking with how Brexit has to be dealt with,” Mr Ahern said.
“I just wish people stuck with the process. I have no problem with people wanting changes or want amendments, but then stick with the process, don’t bring down the institutions of Northern Ireland that are for the benefit of people of Northern Ireland.
“If you want to change the protocol then change the protocol, don’t wreck a system that has equally got us through the pandemic in the north and working hard on it.
“I think he is quite within his rights to argue for changes, but don’t wreck a political system.
“The Irish Government are just part, like other 27 countries, of the whole Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” the former Fianna Fáil leader said.
“It’s within that space that that has to be resolved. The Irish Government has an input but they are not the driving force in it.”