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Poots reports 'positive, frank and useful' talks with Taoiseach despite north-south relations 'never being as bad'

The Taoiseach says the two party leaders had “an open exchange of view” this evening.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meeting with DUP Leader Edwin Poots and Paul Givan, Democratic Unionist Party MLA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin meeting with DUP Leader Edwin Poots and Paul Givan, Democratic Unionist Party MLA
Image: Julien Behal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Jun 4th 2021, 8:02 AM

DUP LEADER EDWIN  Poots has said a meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin about tensions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol was “positive, frank and useful”.

Poots made his first visit to Government Buildings in Dublin since becoming party leader after warning that relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic had “never been as bad”.

But following the meeting with the Taoiseach, Poots struck a more conciliatory tone and said that he would lead a team to the next north-south ministerial meeting on 18 June. 

“North-south relations have never been as bad, I don’t blame the current Taoiseach for that, I blame the last Taoiseach,” Poots told reporters last night.

He added however that he would “lead the DUP team” at the next north-south ministerial meeting. 

I believe that there are important issues that we need to discuss and deal with. On the basis that there is going to be a serious attempt to assist in dealing with the protocol I believe that we should be seeking to help normalise relationships once again.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Taoiseach said the two party leaders had “an open exchange of views across a number of issues”. 

These include political developments, Covid-19, North-South cooperation and the NI Protocol. 

“The Taoiseach highlighted the critical importance of the stability and good functioning of the NI Executive and all the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,  in these challenging times,” the statement said. 

“Recognising and understanding the genuine concerns in unionist and loyalist communities around the Protocol, the Taoiseach said the focus needs to be on getting issues resolved and on reducing friction where we can.”

The statement said Poots and Martin discussed the importance of “practical North-South cooperation continuing” and they agreed to remain in touch in the coming period. 

Last month, Poots described his relationship with the Dublin Government as “really, really bad”.

He said he has respect for Micheál Martin but was critical of his predecessor and Coveney. 

Ahead of the meeting, Poots said he hoped to “fix” the relationship which he claims was “damaged by the last Irish government” headed up by now Tánaiste, then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. 

He accused Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney of using historic issues to “taxi drive forward” the agenda that ultimately resulted in the Northern Ireland protocol. 

“Northern Ireland cannot be a plaything of the European Union or indeed the southern government. Northern Ireland people are more important than that,” he added. 

We cannot have a situation where some of the lowest paid workers anywhere in the European Union are going to have their food costs driven up, where people who require medication cannot get that medication.

A spokesperson for the Tánaiste said that “North-South relations are about more than relations with any one political party”.

“Relations are strained because of Brexit and its knock-on effects which continue to play out. Minister Coveney and the Tanaiste were against Brexit as were the majority of people, parties and politicians in Northern Ireland. We are doing our best to minimise the damage to Ireland, North and South. We will not be distracted from that work.”

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Poots said there is “a lot of anger over the protocol”. He claimed that the actions of Varadkar and Coveney “hurt people in Northern Ireland”.

Varadkar and Coveney are responsible for interruptions to food and medicine in Northern Ireland, he claimed, irrespective of whether that was the intention.

“They have to reflect on that and rectify that,” he said. 

Ahead of the meeting, Poots was asked if he expected a cordial meeting with the Taoiseach. He said he had “come to actually do business with people”.

He added he wanted “good” relations across the border, and wanted to work with people who want to achieve that also. 

Earlier today, he said he had not refused to attend any North-South meetings.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP are seeking legal advice over the non-attendance of DUP ministers at recent North-South Ministerial Council sectoral meetings.

- With reporting by Press Association 

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