Taoiseach to take “pragmatic'”approach to North/South relations

Posted By: July 16, 2020

Tommie Gorman.. Northern Editor. RTE. Thursday,  July 16,  2020 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he will take a “pragmatic” approach to relations between North and South.

Today Mr Martin held talks at Stormont with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during what was his first visit to Belfast since taking office.

They discussed a range of issues including Brexit and the Covid-19 response.

It was also agreed during the discussions that a North South Ministerial Council meeting will take place in Dublin on 31 July.

It will be the first such gathering between the two administrations in three-and-a-half years.

Speaking at a media conference in Stormont, Mr Martin said he had a “very good series of meetings” today with Ms Foster, Ms O’Neill, the Northern Secretary and other political leaders in Northern Ireland.

Mr Martin said he was encouraged by the meetings and engagements he has had since taking up the role of Taoiseach.

He said there was a “genuine desire on all sides to work together”.

The Fianna Fáil leader said he would bring a pragmatic approach to dealings with Stormont leaders, saying there are a number of projects which he will seek to get over the line.

Asked about the Government’s shared island unit, he said the unit would work without prejudice to people’s political positions.

He said he felt a Border Poll would be too divisive and he would prefer to explore “the economic, social and political issues that would enable us to share the island in a peaceful way”.

“I will be an engaging, understanding Taoiseach, trying to keep people together and trying to move forward on the economic front in particular, and also in terms of getting projects over the line that we have been talking about for some time.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We had a productive discussion around areas of mutual interest. Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was a key focus of our conversation as we work simultaneously to protect people and rebuild our economies. 

“As two jurisdictions sharing an island it makes perfect sense that Northern Ireland seeks to build a positive relationship with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. We have seen the benefits of collaboration through the North West Cancer Centre and the all-island Congenital Heart Disease Network, for example.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We discussed economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing public health response and the need for a joined up approach across the island where possible.

“We spoke about the potential implications of Brexit and the pressing concerns this raises. I set out the need to work together to protect the needs and interests of people and businesses across this island.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said: “We would like to go back and to reset the relationship to three years ago where we had a respectful dialogue between north and south, between the Taoiseach and leader of the Ulster Unionists and various other parties.

“With this Taoiseach we have probably got the opportunity to do that.”