Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accused the British government of being the biggest stumbling block in resolving the Northern Ireland protocol issue because, unlike the Democratic Unionist Party, it has failed to propose a possible solution.
In a blunt assessment of the political deadlock that has paralyzed the Northern Assembly, Mr Martin said it seemed to him that the European Union no longer trusted Boris Johnson’s government to work with her to resolve the issues surrounding the protocol. .
The Taoiseach cited the role David Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, played in “torpedoing” a proposed resolution last year.
His comments elicited a quick 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 Northern Ireland protocol may not lie with union work. I think it’s up to the British government and the British government should decide for itself what it actually wants.
“I think union work has made a case for us and we have discussed it with the European Union over time. The European Union has met with the trade union community and has met with businesses and industry in Northern Ireland and made proposals
“But the European Union has never really been given a landing zone by the British government in connection with the protocol. It is very unclear what will be enough for the British government. We have some idea of what would work with unions, but we don’t have that feeling with the UK government.”
Mr Martin took last year’s decision by Mr Frost – then acting as Brexit minister to the UK government – to raise the issue of the European Court of Justice on the eve of the publication of a proposed compromise by Vice-President Maros Sefcovic the European Commission.
“Unionism has certainly raised problems with the functioning of the protocol that we have been working on with our colleagues from the European Union to resolve it and, if you recall just before Maros Sefcovic set out his proposals, Lord Frost tried to torpedoed by the issue of the European Court of Justice.
“That was a conscious effort, I think, to undermine what Maros Sefcovic was about and we need less of the British government to be honest and the problem for Europe is that Europe is not sure and now has no confidence in what would resolve the protocol issue.”
Mr Frost tweeted a link to the Irish Times report on Mr Martin’s comments on Saturday, saying: “Normally I wouldn’t want to use Twitter to respond to @MichealMartinTD de Taoiseach, but as he personally accuses me from ruining the conversations last year I feel I have to respond.
“The suggestion that the UK has not established a ‘landing zone’ is simply wrong. Our July 2021 Command Document and the legal text that followed were a very clear landing zone, explained in great detail.
“That July paper was also very clear that the role of the Court of Justice should be scrapped. So it is simply wrong to say that I first raised it in my speech in Lisbon in October, or that it was meant to screw up the discussion process.
“If the problem is to be solved with the Protocol, Ireland and the EU should deal with what we actually said. I’ve always been clear that a negotiated way forward would be best. But if HMG’s views are ignored or misrepresented, it’s 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 to Mr Johnson earlier this week and made it clear to him that any unilateral action by the UK government would be a mistake .
“I have made it clear that any unilateral step to undermine the protocol would have a destabilizing effect on Northern Ireland and, what I believe is important, the UK Government must work professionally with the European Union in resolving issues related to the protocol.”
The British Prime Minister has said that the protocol is becoming a political problem and that it does not work in the context of Northern Ireland. He has demanded changes despite agreeing to them in 2019, and has warned the UK government it will act unilaterally to change the protocol if an agreement cannot be reached with the EU.
Martin said: “The UK Government must put the stability of the political situation in Northern Ireland first – these problems can be solved – and I know the unions are ready to solve them too.”
Martin said he believed the solution to the current deadlock over the DUP’s refusal to enter the executive branch unless the protocol issue is resolved was to get the meeting underway in parallel with discussions on protocol.
“Talks on the protocol should run parallel to the restoration of executive power and the restoration of the assembly, because democracy means that all parties have a duty to fulfill the mandate given to them by the people, which is to and set up the executive branch,” said Mr Martin.
“Then the executive and the assembly can make a strong contribution to solving the problems surrounding the protocol, but I think the UK government needs to think long and hard about its strategy and its approach, because in my view its one-sided approach is not helpful in anyway.”
Earlier, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she planned to tell Mr Johnson Monday morning that his tactics regarding the Brexit protocol are “embarrassing and disgraceful”.
Ms McDonald said the UK government is colluding with the DUP to thwart the will of the electorate, as expressed in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, where Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party.
After a meeting of Sinn Féin’s ard comhairle in Dublin, she called on the international community to “accuse” the British government for its lack of good faith regarding 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 elaboration of the Brexit that the Tory party and the DUP have been fighting for. We will not be collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations,” she said.
She expected both the US government and the EU to tell the UK government “loud and clear” that their attempts to change the protocol will not be accepted.
Sinn Féin’s congressional leader Michelle O’Neill said Sinn Féin showed up as it promised to do for the meeting.
“People voted for politics to work, for people to work together. The DUP are punishing the public for their own Brexit mess. They are facilitated in that by the Tories,” 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 it is not acceptable.
“Boris Johnson has no mandate on the island of Ireland, but he is facilitating this DUP madness. I want the chance to sit in the Prime Minister’s office.”