Wednesday 16 August 2017

Upheaval to highlight North's unique position

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Photo: Arthur Carron
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Photo: Arthur Carron
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to use the political upheaval in Stormont to highlight the unique situation faced by Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

The resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and looming Stormont Assembly elections have thrown a "sharp focus" on the "fragility" of the situation in the North, a senior source told the Irish Independent.

Mr Kenny will highlight the unique challenges faced by Northern Ireland due to the Good Friday Agreement, which is underpinned by the European Union.

It comes as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned the chaos in the North is "a source of very serious concern" ahead of the British government's triggering of Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the European Union.

Brexit is set to be one of the most divisive issues on the election trail in the North, which faces issues on the future of the Border and trade, and where a majority voted to remain in the EU in last year's referendum.

The DUP campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the EU while Sinn Féin sought a remain vote.

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has already hit out at Sinn Féin for forcing an election while the Executive is dealing with Brexit.

"Northern Ireland needs stability, but because of Sinn Féin's selfish actions we now have instability," she said.

However, despite the prospect of weeks of uncertainty ahead, the senior Government source here insisted that there will be "no material difference" to the Irish Government's own response to Brexit.

They said that a "stable political environment" is preferable regardless of Britain leaving the EU.

But the source also added that the events in the North are a "timely reminder" that Ireland is a unique in the context of the Brexit negotiations due to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Martin pointed out that in the context of Brexit, Northern Ireland is "the region that stands to lose most and requires the greatest level of focus to protect its position".

"At a time when people in the North need their representatives to step up to the plate, put differences aside and fight together in the common interest to meet a once in a generation threat, they have been very badly let down by the ruling parties of DUP and Sinn Féin," he said.

A spokesman for the Government expressed concern at Mr McGuinness's resignation. He restated the Government's commitment to supporting the Northern Ireland institutions but said that resolving the row over the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) rests with the parties in the North.

"It is critical now that elections which now seem inevitable see the politicians of Northern Ireland back in the Assembly representing the constituents that put them there," he added.

He said Mr Kenny will continue to emphasise the unique situation in Northern Ireland with other European leaders. Mr Kenny will raise the matter at a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later this week, and at a meeting with the leaders of the other 26 EU countries scheduled for next week.

"The Taoiseach will represent Ireland's interests in relation to the Good Friday Agreement," the spokesman said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been forced to deny that her government's approach to Brexit is "muddled", is due to visit Dublin - her first since she took office - later this month.

Her talks with the Taoiseach will now take on even greater importance due to the instability in the North. Last month, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he wanted to "preserve the success" of the Good Friday Agreement after the UK leaves the EU.

Irish Independent

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