Micheál Martin discusses Northern Ireland Protocol
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And Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister and a close ally of Mr Martin’s predecessor, Leo Varadkar, has also said it was now time for Lord Frost and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to work closely with Brussels to thrash out solutions to all the outstanding problems with respect to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Under the terms of the protocol, which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the 2020 Withdrawal Agreement, the European Court of Justice would be the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two parties on the operation of the Protocol.
The UK now wants to remove that provision and replace it with an independent arbitration process – something Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit point man, ruled out during his speech in Brussels on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Mr Sefcovic unveiled a number of key concessions, including an 80 percent cut in checks and regulations related to goods entering Northern Ireland.
In an implied rebuke of Lord Frost, Mr Martin, who as Taoiseach is the Irish equivalent of a Prime Minister, said: “The British Government has pleaded that they didn’t fully understand the implications of the Protocol or with the Withdrawal Agreement.
“I think the European Commission has now demonstrated that they are really open and willing to bring a resolution to this.”
Mr Martin said that during his last meeting with Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister indicated he wanted another opportunity to seek a resolution.
The Fianna Fail leader added: “The stakes are high in respect of making sure that we can maintain the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and political stability in Northern Ireland.”
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Northern Ireland has been handed a good opportunity with retaining access to the single market and the market in Great Britain which was is “very advantageous” for different sectors of the economy, Mr Martin insisted.
He added: “I think there’s a real responsibility on all parties, including the United Kingdom Government, to engage responsibly and seriously with this package.”
Mr Martin said the main sticking issues flagged by some parties in Northern Ireland are the free-flow of goods between Great Britain and the province.
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He said: ”Even in discussions with the British Prime Minister that I had with him it was about, for example, chilled meats.
“Mostly people would speak about the sausages getting through to Northern Ireland, well now you know what, the sausages will get to Northern Ireland.”
Emphasising he and the European Commission are in “solution mode”, Mr Martin also paid tribute to Mr Sefcovic for how he and the European Commission have handled post-Brexit issues, saying: “It’s been a sincere, hard-working and very sensitive and committed approach.
“Maros Sefcovic has really consulted with people all around. His engagement with the Irish Government to get a sense of things, he went north and spoke to people on the ground in Northern Ireland and business and industry, and politically met with all the parties.”
Mr Coveney, meanwhile, who earlier this week clashed with Lord Frost on Twitter over the issue, released a statement yesterday in which he likewise welcomed Mr Sefcovic’s announcements.
Mr Coveney said: “These bespoke solutions make it easier for Northern Irish businesses to move goods into Northern Ireland while at the same time continuing to benefit from all the advantages of full access to the EU single market.
“These proposals represent a real opportunity for Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland – especially those in the business community – want the Protocol to work well. They see the very real opportunities presented by the Protocol and want these to be fully realised.”
He added: “We welcome David Frost’s comments that he will engage seriously, fully and positively with the Commission. The package provides a pathway to resolving all the outstanding issues.
“Now is the time for the UK Government to engage constructively on the practical solutions being put forward by the Commission to the issues that matter most to the people of Northern Ireland.”
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