Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and incoming British prime minister Boris Johnson must avoid public spats and commit to restoring powersharing in the North, says Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin. Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, he said the two leaders must agree “deep and permanent” co-operation after Brexit through a new credible forum.
Mr Martin, although critical of Boris Johnson, said the Government must find a way of working with the incoming prime minister.
“Over the next few weeks the Taoiseach and prime minister will meet to discuss Brexit. Both leaders should be reminded that this is not just a game of one-upmanship — that Brexit is far too serious to play domestic politics with. It would be a good start if there was an end to the new habit of carrying out every disagreement in public and for both the Taoiseach and the new prime minister to do more than focus on the fight at hand.”
Mr Martin called on Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson to give “personal commitments” to revive institutions in the North.
Outlining steps both leaders could take, he told the audience in Glenties:
A reformed petition of concern to stop past abuses, the creation of the Civic Forum promised in the Agreement and intended to ensure the inclusion of marginalised communities, and a new financial settlement which proposes development rather than the management of cutbacks. These are concrete steps where leadership is needed.
The two must also put in place a “credible forum” for ensuring “deep and permanent contact and co-operation post Brexit”, suggested Mr Martin.
Speaking to reporters, he also said there were more pressing issues than a border poll or constitutional changes in the North, that impacted on the economy and services.
“In many respects the people of Northern Ireland have moved on and want real focus on bread-and- butter issues, on their health service, on education issues, because they are facing a lot of challenges and cuts at the moment.”
Elsewhere, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, for the second year in a row, withdrew from speaking at the school. Mr Martin was critical of her non-attendance and inability to share the stage with him again in Glenties.
“This is the second year in a row that I was billed, and I was to be sharing a platform with Michelle O’Neill and for some reason, the Northern Ireland Sinn Féin leader is pulled again and these are issues I’d like to discuss and engage on on a public platform and that is disappointing.”
Ms O’Neill was replaced by party councillor John Finucane, who said his leader was unable to attend due to political talks at Stormont. He said that, in event of a united Ireland in time, Unionists were beginning to reassess their futures.
“It is time to hear all of the voices within this debate”, said Mr Finucane, adding that his party needed to assure others of the benefits and new rights under a united Ireland.