Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson urges unionists to engage with Dublin's 'Shared Island Unit'

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

BORIS Johnson believes unionists have nothing to fear from the Dublin government's Shared Island Unit and should engage with it "in a confident way".

The new unit established in Taoiseach Micheál Martin's department aims to "work towards a consensus on a shared island".

Unionist politicians have so far greeted the initiative with suspicion and signalled that they will not have any dealings with it.

The Fianna Fáil leader was last week criticised by his DUP counterpart Arlene Foster after he said Britain may get "turned off" Northern Ireland and that his government's new Shared Island Unit was being "beefed up" in preparation for such an eventuality.

He noted that English nationalism had been rekindled and that Scottish independence may become a reality in the future, meaning that Britain could become tired of the north.

As the two leaders met yesterday at Hillsborough, the taoiseach outlined his vision of the unit's work but later said that he had not raised Britain's future commitment to the north during the discussions with the prime minister.

"The import of today's meeting was the necessity of both governments to continue to nurture the institutions and support the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Martin said.

"I explained to him in relation of the Shared Island Unit how we can best, over the next while, share this island in a pragmatic way and develop common projects that respect the parameters Good Friday Agreement the constitutional framework that the Good Friday Agreement created – within that there's huge room for progress."

In a press conference with Mr Johnson following the taoiseach's remarks he was asked by The Irish News if unionists should fear the unit and whether the Tory leader would urge them to engage with it.

The British prime minister said unionists should not spurn the opportunity to talk to the unit about a range of issues.

He said an all-Ireland approach was "just a geographical fact".

"But then so are the British Isles a great geographical fact and we should celebrate that too and indeed we should intensify communications between all parts of the British Isles," he said.

"I think unionism is very strong, it's very strong tradition here in NI and it's a point of view I happen to share and I think people should engage with people south of the border in a confident way – economically, politically, you name it."

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