Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accused the UK government of being the main stumbling block in resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol issue because, unlike the Democratic Unionist Party, it has failed to come up with a possible solution.
In a stark assessment of the political impasse that has crippled the Northern Assembly, Mr Martin said he felt the European Union no longer trusted Boris Johnson’s government to work with him to resolve the difficulties about the protocol.
The Taoiseach cited the role played by the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, in trying to ‘torpedo’ a proposed resolution last year.
His comments prompted a swift response from Mr Frost who suggested on Twitter that the UK Government’s position was “ignored or misrepresented”.
Speaking to reporters in Cork on Saturday, Mr Martin said: ‘The fundamental challenge with the Northern Ireland protocol may not be trade unionism. I think that is up to the UK government and the UK government has to figure out for itself what it actually wants.
“I think that trade unionism defended us and we discussed it over time with the European Union. The European Union has met with the unionist community and it has met businesses and industrialists in Northern Ireland and put forward proposals
“But the European Union has never really gotten a landing zone from the UK government in relation to the protocol. It’s very difficult to know what will be enough for the UK government. We have an idea of what would work with trade unionism, but we don’t have that idea with the British government.
Mr Martin cited the decision last year by Mr Frost – then Brexit minister for the UK government – to raise the issue in the European Court of Justice on the eve of the publication of a compromise proposal by the Vice -President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic.
“Trade unionism raised issues about the operation of the protocol that we worked with our colleagues in the European Union to try to address and, if you remember just before Maros Sefcovic presented his proposals, Lord Frost tried to torpedo by raising the issue of the European Court of Justice.
“It was a deliberate attempt, it seems to me, to undermine what Maros Sefcovic was and we need less of that from the UK government to be frank and the problem for Europe is that the ‘Europe is not sure and has no confidence now as to what would settle the question of the protocol.
Mr Frost tweeted a link to the Irish Times report on Mr Martin’s comments on Saturday, with the following comment: “I wouldn’t normally use Twitter to respond to @MichealMartinTD the Taoiseach, but, as he m personally accuse of destroying the talks last year, I feel I must respond.
“The suggestion that the UK has not defined a ‘landing zone’ is simply wrong. Our command document of July 2021 and the legal text that followed it was a very clear landing zone, explained in detail.
“This July document was also very clear that the role of the Court of Justice should be abolished. It is therefore simply wrong to say that I raised it for the first time in October in my speech in Lisbon or that the objective was to derail the process of talks.
“If the protocol issue is to be resolved, Ireland and the EU must engage with what we have actually said. I have always been clear that a negotiated route would be best. But if HMG’s positions are ignored or distorted, it is not surprising that unilateral action is on the table.
Speaking at the official opening of Cork ARC Cancer Support’s new home at Sarsfield House in Wilton, Mr Martin said he had spoken with Mr Johnson earlier this week and made it clear to him that any action unilateral action by the British government would be a mistake.
“I have made it clear that any unilateral decision to undermine the Protocol would have a destabilizing impact on Northern Ireland and, in my view, importantly, the UK Government must work professionally with the European Union to resolve any problems with the protocol.”
The British Prime Minister said the protocol was becoming a political issue and that it was not working in the context of Northern Ireland. He demanded changes despite his agreement in 2019 and the British government warned that it would act unilaterally to modify the protocol if an agreement could not be reached with the EU.
Mr Martin said: ‘The UK Government must prioritize the stability of the political situation in Northern Ireland – these issues can be resolved – and I know that trade unionism is also ready to resolve them.’
Mr Martin said he believed the solution to the current stalemate over the DUP’s refusal to enter the executive unless the protocol issue was resolved was to get the assembly up and running along with protocol discussions.
“Discussions around the protocol should be parallel to the restoration of the executive and the assembly, because democracy means that it is the duty of all parties to fulfill the mandate given to them by the people, c that is to put in place the assembly and put in place the executive,” said Mr. Martin.
“Then the executive and the assembly can make a strong contribution to resolving the issues around the protocol, but I think the UK government needs to think long and hard about its strategy and approach because, in my view, its unilateral approach is not helpful whatsoever.
Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she intended to tell Mr Johnson on Monday morning that his Brexit protocol tactics were “disgraceful and disgraceful”.
Ms McDonald said the UK Government colluded with the DUP to thwart the will of the electorate as expressed in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections where Sinn Féin became the largest party.
Speaking after a meeting of Sinn Féin’s ard comhairle in Dublin, she called on the international community to “challenge” the UK government over its lack of good faith over the protocol.
Ms McDonald accused Mr Johnson of using the North as ‘a pawn in a wider game being played with the European Union and this is clearly a disgraceful tactic and approach’.
“Let’s be clear – the protocol isn’t going anywhere. The protocol is a necessary extension of the Brexit that the Conservative Party and the DUP campaigned for. We will not be collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations,” she said.
She expected the US government and the EU to say “loudly” to the UK government that their attempts to change the protocol would not be accepted.
Sinn Féin Assembly leader Michelle O’Neill said Sinn Féin had turned up as they had promised to do for the assembly.
“People voted for politics to work, for people to work together. The DUP is punishing the public for its own Brexit mess. They are facilitated in this by the conservatives,” she added.
“When Boris Johnson comes to Belfast on Monday we will make it very clear to him that they are punishing the public and that is not acceptable.
“Boris Johnson has no mandate on the island of Ireland, but he is facilitating this DUP madness. I want the opportunity to be in the Prime Minister’s Office.