Northern Ireland

Tánaiste Micheál Martin says DUP demand must not undermine Good Friday Agreement

Tánaiste Micheál Martin speaking in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney
Tánaiste Micheál Martin speaking in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney

Safeguards the DUP are seeking from the British government ahead of the restoration of devolution must not undermine the Good Friday Agreement, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

The Fianna Fáil leader was speaking on Wednesday in Belfast after talks with representatives of the five main parties amid a continued boycott of the institutions by the DUP.

Mr Martin said Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was "adamant" that he wanted to see the Stormont institutions restored

"He wants the DUP back in the executive and back in the assembly," the tánaiste said. 

He said the DUP leader indicated there were "issues" to be resolved with the British government. 

"My view was that this needs to be attended to with some degree of urgency now, in terms of both the budgetary situation but also the need to have the mandate of the people reflected in the executive and assembly coming back," Mr Martin said.

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In the months since February's Windsor Framework deal, the DUP sought assurances from the British government that it will protect Northern Ireland’s ability to trade freely within the UK single market. However, it remains unclear what exactly the party wants. 

The tánaiste was asked by The Irish News if he understood what the DUP was seeking from the British government. 

"I think he (Sir Jeffrey Donaldson) was fully frank in what he's looking for in terms of assurances but that's a matter in the first instance that I think he needs to clarify with precision exactly and for it to be addressed, without in any way undermining the fundamental architecture of the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"Then I think things are possible and I do believe that everybody is possessed of the necessity to do something urgently, and also that there is a window of opportunity in the aftermath of the local elections that should, in my view, facilitate a resumption of the executive and the assembly."

In a statement issued after speaking to Mr Martin by phone, the DUP leader said Dublin had "ignored the views of unionists" in regard to the protocol.

"We have engaged constructively with key stakeholders in London, Dublin, Brussels and Washington and emphasised that for Northern Ireland to move forward, there must be respect for unionists and nationalists," he said. 

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said  the north was "currently seeing a perfect storm of finance and governance crises in our public services".

"That’s why we urgently need a restored and reformed executive, in order to protect people right across the community," he said.

"It was important to use today to discuss the opportunities we have to maximise cross-border co-operation, while also seeking strategic shared cross-border investment in areas which we can see benefits, such as health and infrastructure."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said work on restoring the executive should not be "placed on the back burner" over summer.

“Restoring the eecutive to provide strategic political direction to public services must be an urgent priority for all parties," he said. "The unprecedented pressure on health, education and other critical services is leading to savage cuts that will have a dire impact on people across our communities."