Brexit a hot topic at North South Ministerial Council meeting

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was one of those in attendance

By PA reporter

Irish premier Micheal Martin has said Brexit issues can be ironed out and resolved if the “political will” exists.

Mr Martin made the comments following a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) on Friday.

Mr Martin described the meeting as “good, relaxed, engaged and pragmatic”.

He said: “I think there are issues in the Protocol that we can work together to try and resolve.

“The British Government and the European Union Commission are engaging in respect of dealing with those issues.

“The British Government has issued a command paper, the EU have responded, the EU has extended the grace periods.

“There has been a lot of work done over the last number of months.

“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 that have arisen in terms of the smooth implementation of the protocol and the resolution of those issues.

“Again, there’s obviously more work to be done there, but there is engagement between the UK Government and European Union Commission.

“The Irish Government stands ready to be helpful and has engaged with the commission on these issues and with the UK Government on these issues.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan said there is a window of opportunity to resolve the issues caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP Assembly member also said the Irish Government has an important role in influencing the EU.

“What we have is a window of opportunity with the UK Government recognising the political societal and economic harm that has been caused by that protocol,” Mr Givan added.

“The European Union has now suspended its litigation and there’s recognition that the protocol is causing harm, that there needs to be constructive engagement between the UK Government and the European Union.

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

“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.

“That caused huge damage within the Unionist community, by the way in which the Irish Government at that time engaged in the process, and we want to see a new relationship developed after the outworkings of the UK Government and European Union engagement as a result of this command paper haven’t been published.

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

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she raised the issue of Brexit grace periods coming to an end during the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

Ms O’Neill added that the economic challenges the public face is a direct result of Brexit.

“Those that delivered the hardest possible Brexit have to shoulder some of the responsibility for where we are,” she added.

“That being said, I think that within the framework of the Withdrawal Agreement, we have the Joint Committee, that is the forum in which we can iron out some of the issues that need to be resolved.

“Some of which arise because of the lateness of the deal itself, some of which arise because we live in a new trade reality as a result of Brexit.

“This is the forum (NSMC) and the British Irish Council, and the Executive itself.

“Totality of relationships is crucially important.

“I think that it’s important that we work constructively where we can to try to resolve the issues that need to be resolved and give wider society that stability which they crave as we go forward.”

Meanwhile,

Work is “ongoing” to ensure that Irish passport holders living in Northern Ireland will be able to access the EU digital Covid certificate, leaders from both sides of the border have said.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) hosted by Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

Speaking after the meeting, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she welcomed “the fact that there is ongoing work to resolve the issue”.

“I don’t have a timeframe to speak of at this stage but I know that at an official level in terms of data sharing, there is ongoing conversations, so I hope that that issue will be resolved as soon as is physically possible,” she said.

She said there should be no barriers to EU citizens in Northern Ireland having access to the EU digital Covid certificate.

The certificates show the holder is fully vaccinated, has tested negative for Covid-19 or has recovered from the disease.

Currently, most Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland cannot access the certificate due to having been vaccinated outside of the Republic of Ireland.

“There’s no barrier to people living across the island being able to access hospitality. The vaccine certs that have been issued in the north, in terms of their card etc, will be acceptable,” Ms O’Neill said.

Mr Martin said: “In terms of the digital Covid certificate, there’s absolutely no issue in terms of people accessing hospitality with the certification they already have, in terms of the vaccination in the north.

“We’ve put our two chief information officers together and officials to work through whatever operational issues in terms of the sharing of data and so forth. That work is continuing.”

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