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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C

Micheál Martin: Failure to form Northern Ireland Executive is 'unacceptable'

Martin was speaking in Oxford earlier today.

AN TAOISEACH MICHEÁL Martin has said that the DUP’s refusal to participate in forming an executive in the North was “unacceptable”.

Martin said that the DUP’s refusal to take part in the assembly was damaging the functioning of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and this was to the detriment of people in the North.

“It is to the detriment of the people of Northern Ireland that their Executive is not in place to take the decisions and provide the leadership that the North needs, particularly as we face into a difficult and economically challenging winter,” Martin said.

“It is a denial of the mandate they gave in the elections of the fifth of May.

What we are faced with is the decision of one political party not to participate in the Northern Ireland Executive, and by so doing, damaging the functioning of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. It is unacceptable.

An Taoiseach was speaking  earlier today at the British Irish Association Conference at Pembroke College in Oxford. He said had been “completely consistent on this issue” and had expressed similar views when Sinn Fein withdrew from the Executive in 2017. 

Martin said that when the Executive broke down on previous occasions, both governments worked hard to resolve the issues, “make progress and restore the Institutions”.

That should be our approach now also, with issues regarding the Protocol addressed in parallel through EU-UK talks.

Assembly elections were held on 5 May of this year following the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. The DUP withdrew in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sinn Féin secured 27 seats and the DUP won 25, but the DUP said it would not nominate a deputy first minister until “decisive action” is taken on the protocol, which has led to a deadlock.

Speaking at the same conference yesterday evening, in comments carried by RTÉ News, the UK government’s Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shailesh Vara said if parties in the North didn’t form an Executive, he would call another assembly election by the end of October.

Northern Ireland Protocol

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed upon by the EU and the UK during Brexit negotiations. It governs the trading relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

There have been some implementation difficulties with the protocol, and it has become a serious bone of contention between the EU and the UK, with the British government bringing forward legislation to unilaterally suspend key aspects of the protocol. Ireland and the EU have said that this would break international law and renege on key aspects of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. 

Speaking yesterday, Vara said that the British government’s plans to set aside part of the protocol was an “insurance policy”.

“Our aim with the legislation on the Northern Ireland Protocol is to put in place an insurance policy so that we can ensure we have a way of resolving the issues with the Protocol,” he said.

Like all insurance policies, they are better if they’re not invoked but we must bring about a resolution.

However, today Martin said the moves by the UK to suspend aspects of the protocol risked causing further instability in the North, and will fray the relationship with Ireland.

“I am deeply concerned about the British Government’s legislation which would unilaterally undo core elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” said Martin.

The Taoiseach said he was concerned by what such moves could mean for a partnership between the UK and the EU and for the message it would send about rules-based international order. But, most of all, Martin said he was “concerned because it is neither in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland nor what they want”.

He said the EU recognised “that there have been genuine difficulties with aspects of the implementation of the Protocol”.

But we need to address these together. The EU has listened very carefully to the concerns of people in Northern Ireland.

Martin was speaking ahead of the announcement of a new Prime Minister on Monday, when either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will become the new leader of the Conservative Party. 

“I wish them well in the challenging times ahead,” he said.

I want to work in an open and constructive way with the new British Prime Minister.

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