By Dominic McGrath
The Taoiseach has said voters want politicians to return to power-sharing after the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Speaking at a parliamentary committee on Thursday morning, the Taoiseach urged political parties to work “collectively” after the election.
Voters will go to the polls in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections on May 5th.
There has been speculation that Sinn Féin could emerge as the largest political party in the Assembly.
There are also concerns that the DUP may refuse to return to power-sharing amid ongoing opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol and the response of the UK government to post-Brexit arrangements for the region.
Micheál Martin was addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, where he appeared to discuss his Government’s shared island project to boost cross-border ties on the island.
“Next week, the people of Northern Ireland will vote to provide a new democratic mandate for the devolved power-sharing institutions at Stormont,” he said.
“It is vital for the future of Northern Ireland and for relationships on these islands that the political parties take their mandates from the Assembly elections and move quickly to form a new Executive
“That is what the people of Northern Ireland want.
“This is a moment for political leaders to live up to the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement, which is overwhelmingly supported by people across this island.”
Mr Martin also took the opportunity to express concern over the impact Brexit and the protocol have had on the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The post-Brexit settlement for Northern Ireland has dominated politics in the region in recent years, amid unionist and loyalist outcry at the creation of new checks on some goods moving across the Irish Sea from Britain.
The Fianna Fáil leader, for whom the shared island initiative is something of a personal passion, called for political leadership to move beyond the ongoing tensions over Brexit.
“Political leadership – by all with a role and responsibility – is also fundamental in getting beyond the issues around Brexit and the protocol that have hindered the peace process over the last six years.
“We need to return the focus to working collectively to support progress and prosperity for all in Northern Ireland and across this island, and to realising the opportunities in our societal, economic, cultural and political relationships through the framework of the Good Friday Agreement.
“These are the Government’s objectives and responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Martin and his Government have committed a total of €3.5 billion for all-island, cross-border investment over the coming decade.
Areas for co-operation include healthcare, education and tourism, as well as transport and biodiversity.
The Taoiseach said the aim is to deepen north-south and east-west relationships.
He spoke of “good engagement” with UK prime minister Boris Johnson as well as politicians in Northern Ireland on the issue.
“The Government wants to see a deepening of beneficial co-operation and societal connections on the island, in all areas,” he told the committee.