Agreement anniversary worth celebrating even without Assembly – Taoiseach
The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is worth celebrating even if the Stormont institutions are not operating, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar said it is an ambition to have an agreement between the EU and the UK Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol before then, but it is not a hard deadline.
April will see the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland's historic Good Friday peace agreement which led to the establishment of the Stormont powersharing institutions.
But the devolved bodies have not been operating for almost a year due to the DUP's opposition to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created trading barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.
The Taoiseach told Newstalk that the protocol is working, despite difficulties for some businesses.
He said: “The protocol was a response to Brexit. It is working, there is no hard border between north and south.
“The European single market is being protected; the Northern Ireland economy is outperforming the rest of the UK.
“But it has created some difficulties. When I talk to business people in Northern Ireland they would talk about those difficulties.
“None of them want to get rid of the protocol but they do want it modified and improved.
“One of the difficulties with the protocol is that when it was agreed by the EU, by the Irish Government, by the UK, there was no Northern Ireland Executive, there was no Northern Ireland Assembly, so it had to be agreed without the Executive or the Assembly to consult.
“It is one of the reasons I would like to see the Executive and the Assembly up and running, so that instead of talking to five parties who speak for their voters, we would actually have a first minister, a deputy first minister, an economy minister, people who could legitimately say they are the elected representatives to speak on behalf of Northern Ireland.
“One thing we will try to do as we negotiate solutions to the protocol is we will do our very best to get as broad support as possible for any changes (to the protocol).”
Asked about the possibility of a deal between the EU and the UK being made in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Varadkar said: “I think it's fair to say it's an ambition, but it is not a hard deadline.
“I think we would all like to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at a time when the institutions, the Assembly, the Executive, north-south bodies, are all up and running, but I'd still say it's worth marking and celebrating anyway.
“We've had 25 years of peace in Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. It is still worth celebrating.
“It would be nice to have an agreement in place by then but it is not a hard deadline.”