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Taoiseach Micheál Martin believes 'the will is there' for a free-trade deal between EU and UK

The Taoiseach was speaking after his first meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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Hope: The Taoiseach believes an agreement can be reached. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Hope: The Taoiseach believes an agreement can be reached. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Hope: The Taoiseach believes an agreement can be reached. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin believes that a "landing zone" is emerging for a free-trade deal between the EU and UK after Brexit.

Speaking after his first meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Taoiseach said there is a will on both sides to reach an agreement as the Brexit deadline fast approaches.

"I think where there's a will there's a way. It seems to me that there is a landing zone - if that will is there on both sides - and I think it is," Mr Martin said after the meeting.

"My own gut instinct is that there's a shared understanding that we don't need another shock to the economic system that a no-deal Brexit would give or a sub-optimal trade deal would give to our respective economies," he added.

The Taoiseach said he and Mr Johnson agreed it is "absolutely essential" that a free-trade agreement be reached between the EU and UK.

Mr Martin said it is "absolutely essential" that Ireland and the UK develop a strong relationship after Brexit and invest in shared projects on the island of Ireland.

"The last thing we all need now is a second significant systemic shock to our economic systems, and that's what a no-deal Brexit would present on top of or alongside Covid," Mr Martin said.

"So, I did take from that a genuine view that a comprehensive free-trade agreement was in the best interest of all concerned, and that the British government was sincerely seeking such an outcome," he added.

The two leaders met in Hillsborough Castle in Co Down for the first time after a meeting planned for last week was cancelled due to the passing of former SDLP leader John Hume. Speaking ahead of their meeting, Mr Johnson said he wanted to develop relationships "all sorts of ways - East/West, North/South - you name it".

"I had the honour of meeting the Taoiseach several years ago," he said.

"I am very pleased to develop our friendship and relationship now," he added.

Mr Martin and Mr Johnson had a detailed discussion on Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and UK government plans to celebrate 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland last year.

Before he arrived, Mr Johnson announced plans to establish a Centenary Forum and Centenary Historical Advisory Panel to work alongside his government to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland.

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The Taoiseach said he has never been an advocate for partition but said people can learn from the centenary commemorations of Northern Ireland.

"No one party owns history, no one political party does, no one tradition does," he said.

"The challenge for us really is can we organise centenary commemorations in a way that is as inclusive as possible, as respectful as possible of different traditions, but done in a way that brings new insights into what actually transpired a hundred years ago," he said.

"That's the spirit within which I, and I think the British Prime Minister wholeheartedly agreed, that that's the spirit within which we should proceed and create a new shared understanding of how we've got to where we've got to today, 100 years on."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and the DUP clashed over Mr Johnson's plans to celebrate 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland.

Speaking after her meeting with Mr Johnson, Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill said there is "nothing to celebrate about partition".

Ms O'Neill said Northern Ireland was built on "sectarianism, gerrymandering and an inbuilt unionist majority".

She said Sinn Féin will be highlighting the negative impacts of partition on nationalist communities during the centenary celebrations.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster, the First Minister, said she fully supported celebrating the creation of Northern Ireland and insisted history cannot be ignored.

Ms Foster said she hoped the events will be inclusive and added that she regrets that Sinn Féin members will not use the term Northern Ireland.

The DUP leader said she had no problem with Irish commemorations and repeated that history cannot be ignored.


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