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Government must persuade the EU to help resolve Brexit row, Northern First Minister tells Taoiseach

Images of 1970s border bombings weren’t helpful, McGivan says


Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan

Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan

Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan

The Irish Government must persuade the EU to “fix” the North’s Brexit crux and undo the harm done by its use of 1972 border bombing photographs to help win special trade status for Northern Ireland.

That was the strong message from Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan at the end of a meeting between the Belfast and Dublin governments.

He renewed Democratic Unionist Party allegations that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar used newspaper clippings of a 1972 IRA customs post bombing at Newry, which killed nine people, to win Dublin arguments about the absolute need to avoid a hard border.

As Taoiseach, in October 2018, Mr Varadkar showed the newspaper cutting at a summit of EU counterparts to warn of the lethal risks from the return of a north-south hard border. The EU leaders fully backed an arrangement for no hard border but that did involve checks on exports into the North from Britain, under the disputed Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Givan, agreed with the Taoiseach that there is now “a window of opportunity” to resolve the protocol dispute. But he stressed that the Irish Government has an important role.

He said the UK government recognised the protocol caused social and economic harm in the North. He noted that the EU has now suspended legal action against London, offering a chance for real negotiations.

“Obviously the Irish Government have a very important role in influencing how the European Union conducts its approach to addressing those issues,” Mr Givan said.

“Nobody should be under any illusion as to the implications that the protocol has had, the manner in which it was foisted upon the Unionist community, and the way in which there was engagement for the European Union, where we had photographs of border posts being bombed in the 1970s in order to get the European Union on side when it came to this protocol,” Mr Givan added pointedly.

The DUP politician said the episode caused huge damage within the Unionist community but there was an opportunity for a new Dublin-Belfast relationship if the problems could be resolved.

“We share this island. It’s in our interests for those relationships to work and to be good,” the First Minister added.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Brexit issues can be resolved if the “political will” exists. He described the meeting of the North South Ministerial Council as “good, relaxed, engaged and pragmatic”.

He said both governments could contribute to a Brexit settlement.

“If the political will exists, I do believe that within the framework of the Withdrawal Agreement that the potential exists there to iron out and to resolve issues,” he said.

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