Taoiseach insists he is listening to unionist concerns over NI Protocol

Taoiseach insists he is listening to unionist concerns over NI Protocol

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, left, and incoming DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson (PA)

The Taoiseach has insisted he is listening to unionist concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Micheál Martin’s comments come after incoming DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson accused the Irish government of “cheerleading” for the protocol.

Mr Donaldson said Dublin had only advocated for the nationalist side of the community in Northern Ireland on Brexit issues and had ignored the concerns unionists have over the imposition of Irish Sea trade barriers.

The Lagan Valley MP, who became leader-designate on Saturday, signalled that north/south relationships would be impacted if Irish ministers did not change stance.

Responding on Sunday, Mr Martin challenged Mr Donaldson’s claims.

“We do listen to unionists and I think Jeffrey knows that I certainly do,” the Taoiseach told RTÉ.

“I’ve known Jeffrey for quite a long time, from experience in government before and in politics more generally.

“I think what is extremely important is that we commit to work together and that we engage and there are issues that unionism has raised in respect of the protocol.

“Our view has been that we would like those issues and we want those issues to be resolved in the context of the European Union/United Kingdom negotiations and discussions, in the mechanisms that have been provided for in the (Withdrawal) Agreement, and that’s Maros Sefcovic (EU commission vice president) and David Frost (UK Brexit minister) and the negotiation channels that they’re involved in.”

Earlier this year, DUP Stormont ministers engaged in a de facto boycott of north/south political meetings with Irish government ministers as part of their campaign of opposition against the new Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots announced a re-engagement in such meetings after holding talks with Mr Martin in Dublin earlier this month.

But a planned meeting of the North South Ministerial Council was cancelled on Friday June 18 amid the turmoil surrounding Mr Poots’s dramatic resignation as party leader the night before.

Mr Donaldson said it would be inevitable that north/south relations would be damaged if the east/west relationship between Britain and the island of Ireland continued to be “harmed” by the protocol.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, right, held talks with outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots, centre, in Dublin earlier in June (Brian Lawless/PA)

After his leadership bid received the endorsement of the DUP electoral college on Saturday, Mr Donaldson was asked about engagement with the Irish government going forward.

“I want to make clear to the Irish government that their cheerleading for the protocol is simply not acceptable, given the harm that it is doing to Northern Ireland. It is dragging our politics backwards,” he said.

“The Irish government and the Irish prime minister have made clear that they want to protect the peace process, they want to protect political stability in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“But the Irish government has to step away from being a cheerleader for one part of the community. If the Irish government is genuine about the peace process, is genuine about protecting political stability in Northern Ireland, then they too need to listen to unionist concerns.

“It’s not just London, Dublin also need to understand that if we’re going to move forward and have co-operation, if they’re intent on harming our relationship with Great Britain, they cannot expect that it will be business as usual on the north/south relationship.”

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