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Mark Rutte and Micheal Martin Nialll Carson/PA

Deep well of support for pragmatic solution on Northern Ireland Protocol, says Taoiseach

The Taoiseach made the remarks during a press conference with Dutch PM Mark Rutte

LAST UPDATE | 23 May 2022

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said there is “a deep well of support from our partners across the world” for the EU and UK to come to a “joint, pragmatic solution” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Unilateral action will not bring us closer to that goal,” the Taoiseach said.

Speaking alongside Mark Rutte at a press event in Dublin, Martin said he had told the Dutch Prime Minister that industry representatives from Northern Ireland had said the protocol was working for “many sectors”, mentioning manufacturing, meat and dairy industries.

“From my contact in recent days in Belfast on Friday, with European leaders, with the delegation from the US Congress I met this afternoon, I know that the only way we will find a way through the current difficulties on the protocol is through good faith engagement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

The EU wants a “harmonious” relationship with the UK, Martin said.

Rutte said he still gets “emotional” about the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and that the protocol not only preserves the agreement but also prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland while safeguarding the integrity of the EU single market.

“I think the EU has shown maximum flexibility,” he said, adding that the Netherlands and the other 26 members of the European Union “fully support” the work of European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, who has been negotiating with the UK on how to tweak the protocol.

embedded267074973 Mark Rutte during the press conference at Farmleigh in Dublin Niall Carson / PA Niall Carson / PA / PA

“We will keep on working with him and his team to make sure that we somehow find a way out of this,” Rutte said.

“But if this is not possible, we also have to take our next steps and think about those. I don’t want to guess as to what they could be, because I don’t think that is helpful, but I think Boris Johnson and the UK know very well what the next steps could be. Let’s hope we don’t come to that.”

It comes as a delegation of senior US politicians met with Martin today as part of a fact-finding mission that has seen them travel from Kerry to Dublin before a visit to Belfast.

The nine-strong delegation arrived in Europe last week and held talks in Brussels on the potential trade implications from the UK’s plans to unilaterally change elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The US politicians met Martin in Government Buildings, where they discussed the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Taoiseach described it as a ”really good meeting”.

The delegation is being led by Congressman Richard Neal who is chair of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. 

Neal is also co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus, a bipartisan group set up to advance the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.

Neal will address the Seanad tomorrow afternoon as part of events surrounding the centenary of Seanad Éireann.

The delegation yesterday met with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Neal tweeted that “good faith negotiations” were key to progress on the Protocol. 

“Thank you Liz Truss for your hospitality and frank discussion regarding our duty to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland. I urge good faith negotiations with the EU to find durable solutions for post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said. 

Neal, who was involved with peace process negotiations in the 1990s, told Politico last week that the Good Friday Agreement “ought not to be held hostage by a disagreement the UK has with the European Union.”

Truss has repeatedly cited unionist concerns over the Protocol as evidence of it being damaging to the Good Friday Agreement. 

Speaking from west Kerry on Sunday, Neal said “whatever challenges that are offered by the protocol, we think can be negotiated”.

“President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and I have made our position known that nothing can jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement,” he told RTÉ.

Coming up to the 25th anniversary it should be celebrated widely, not just on this island, but across the world. 

Yesterday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson had responded to another US Congressmen and said that implementing the protocol in full would result in “an economic tsunami” hitting Northern Ireland.

Responding to a tweet from a member of the Philadelphia congressman Brendan Boyle, Donaldson said that calling on the Northern Ireland Protocol to be implemented in full was “such folly”.

He said: “Implementing the protocol in full means ending grace periods, with an economic tsunami hitting Northern Ireland. Power sharing only works with cross community consensus.

“There is no unionist support for the protocol. The protocol will destroy the GFA if not dealt with.”

US House of Representatives’ member Brendan Boyle had called on the UK government to “implement fully the NI Protocol, which avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, preserves the integrity of the EU Internal Market, and protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts”.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, warned that the UK could forget about a post-Brexit trade deal if it rewrites the agreement.

- With reporting by Lauren Boland and the Press Association

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