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Taoiseach says UK government 'don't fully get' the Good Friday Agreement

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said that there was

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to the media at previous Northern Ireland Protocol talks
Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to the media at previous Northern Ireland Protocol talks
Image: PA

Updated Jun 14th 2022, 3:22 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that the UK’s Bill to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland Protocol is a “fundamental breach of trust” and labelled it “not well thought out”.

Yesterday, the UK Government published the legislation to attempt to override significant parts of the Protocol, effectively scrapping customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain as well as allowing Ministers to change almost every aspect of the text.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the legislation was a “reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland” and reasserted that the plan did not break international law.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said there is no timetable to return to power-sharing at Stormont as the party needs to see the UK Government legislation on the Northern Ireland Protocol progressing through Parliament.

Speaking on College Green in Westminster, Donaldson said: “We haven’t completed our initial assessment of the legislation.

“We want to do that and then we’ll talk to the Government about where we go from here.”

He added: “There’s a long way to go with this legislation. It will take months to pass through the Commons and the Lords unless the Government decides to escalate the timetable for the bill, and we haven’t heard that.”

Donaldson also denied accusations that the UK Government was pandering to the DUP with its legislation designed to over-ride parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach said before a Cabinet meeting this morning that the plans would breach trust built between the EU and the UK.

“I think it’s a fundamental breach of trust, it violates the whole concept of trust,” said Martin.

“Essentially, Britain had signed up to this agreement, had entered into it with the European Union and has now unilaterally caused a breach of this.”

Martin added that he believed the UK’s plan was “anti-business and anti-industry”, saying that businesses in Northern Ireland were concerned about the dual regulatory proposals.

“I don’t think it’s well thought out or well thought through and certainly doesn’t match the realities on the ground in terms of the experiences of those involved in various industries.”

‘Rogue state’

The actions of the UK government were also roundly criticised at Taoiseach’s Questions in the Dáil this afternoon.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Boris Johnson of “colluding” with the DUP to pursue a “hostile, damaging attack against the Good Friday Agreement.”

“This move by Boris Johnson and his government is disgraceful and utterly reckless. Mr Johnson’s belligerent approach to Ireland is part of a cynical attempt to cling to power in Britain at any cost,” McDonald added.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the UK government was acting like a “rogue state”.

“It’s as if Donald Trump moved into number 10 Downing Street and Taoiseach this is clearly a matter of immense concern to all of us, and it will have, notably, the most difficult and the most devastating effect for the people of Northern Ireland – who we are seeing effectively being used by the Tory government as a proxy in their own internal battle,” Bacik said.

The Taoiseach reiterated his criticisms of the UK government in the Dáil, describing the publication of the legislation as a “profoundly dispiriting moment”.

“ I just want to say, fundamentally – it’s with regret I say this – I do get the sense that this current British government don’t fully get the Good Friday Agreement or don’t understand the DNA of the Good Friday Agreement and what it really means in terms of the involvement and the co-guarantor nature of it between the British and Irish government,” he said.

Martin also accused the DUP of a “denial of democracy” by preventing the convening of the Northern Ireland assembly and the formation of an executive in Stormont.

‘Illegal’

Earlier this morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has hit out against the UK Government’s plans, calling them “reckless” and “illegal”.

“If this legislation takes effect, it will be illegal as well because effectively what is happening here is the British government is empowering its ministers to disregard large elements of an international agreement, which is international law,” said Coveney, speaking on Newstalk Breakfast.

“[The UK Government] is sending the message to the EU and to Ireland to either give us what we want, or we’re going to take it anyway. I mean, it’s an extraordinary position for the British government to take, particularly when they haven’t made any efforts at negotiation since 11 February.”

Coveney said that he believed this bill had a “long way to go” before it ends up in British law, due to both unease within the Conservative Party as well as opposition to the bill on the opposition benches in Westminster.

However, he said that both Ireland and the EU need to plan how they would respond if the bill was to become law.

We have to plan as Ireland and as the EU collectively, for how we would respond if this were to become law, because we cannot allow a situation where Ireland becomes the collateral damage of a reckless British government strategy on the Northern Ireland protocol.

When asked about the UK Government’s legal basis for the Bill, the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, Coveney said that he didn’t accept it at all, saying that it was not the last option available.

“I don’t accept it at all because that relies on this being the last and only resort, in terms of protecting a key national interest. But of course, it’s not because there is an open negotiation.”

Coveney added that current relations between the UK and Ireland are in the worst position since he became Foreign Affairs Minister.

“In my time, I haven’t seen relations in this place before… Unfortunately what we have now is a British Government setting aside that approach and commitment to partnership with the Irish Government and so we are in uncharted waters.”

Truss said that the action was taken on the Protocol due to the ongoing political situation in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to return to power-sharing due to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The reason that we feel that we absolutely had to take action is because of the situation in Northern Ireland,” said Truss, speaking to BBC Good Morning Ulster.

“The fact is that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is being undermined. We haven’t seen an Executive formed since February, we have seen east-west trade diminished, trade diverted to north-south. We’ve also seen the people of Northern Ireland not able to benefit from tax breaks.

brexit UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss Source: PA

“These are all issues that we need to sort out. Our preference is to sort them out with the EU, but as yet the EU are not agreeing to change the text of the protocol.”

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However, Sinn Féin Vice-President and First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill disagreed with Truss, saying that Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement were incompatible and that the Northern Ireland Protocol was introduced as a mitigation measure.

“When this started, we said that the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit were incompatible and we didn’t consent to Brexit being foisted upon us,” said O’Neill, speaking to Morning Ireland.

We sought to find some mitigation in the form of the protocol.

“We always knew that we need to try to mitigate the worst excesses of the hardest possible Brexit that’s been delivered by Boris Johnson and the DUP.

“They’re undermining our peace agreement at every turn. So it’s the DUP and Boris Johnson that’s undermining the Good Friday Agreement, because of a problem which they themselves delivered to the people here.”

DUP view

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the publication of the Bill by the UK Government, saying that it “offers a potential solution” to problems caused by the Protocol.

When asked whether or not the DUP would be returning to power-sharing following the publication of the bill, Donaldson said that the party wanted to see the legislative process get underway first.

“We only have seen the publication of this bill. It hasn’t yet begun its parliamentary process. We want to see that underway,” said Donaldson, speaking on Morning Ireland.

Obviously, we believe that this bill provides potential for a solution on the Protocol. And as such, we very much welcome it.

“We will work with the government to ensure that the bill goes through the parliamentary process and as it does, we will give thought to what steps we can take.”

However, he said that political institutions in Northern Ireland cannot be restored until there is “clarity and certainty” on the Protocol.

Additional reporting by Céimin Burke and Press Association

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Tadgh McNally

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