Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin has welcomed a “new positive momentum” in Brexit talks which could be a chink of light for trade in Northern Ireland.

Martin is in Brussels today (Tuesday, January 10) where he has been discussing Brexit with key players.

Speaking after his meeting with EU negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, the Tánaiste warned there was still a lot of work to be done to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to EU News Radio, the Tánaiste said: “We should allow both sides to continue to engage and take it step by step, you know. That’s the only way we can see progress here.

“It’s still very difficult; I mean issues have already been identified… but it will fall to both teams of negotiators to try and resolve those issues and ultimately if the negotiators are successful, well then that means a new approach.”

Northern Ireland Protocol

Resolving issues regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol is important for much agri-business in Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.

Resolving these problems will still be difficult, the Tánaiste has warned.

Yesterday, the UK and the EU reached a deal on one of the stumbling blocks, but a lot of issues remain.

Micheál Martin has expressed positivity that there has been movement, but has warned that more work lies ahead: “I think we all welcome the progress that was made and without doubt, the agreement on data sharing is a very significant building block to a potential agreement.

“But obviously a lot of work remains to be done and I’ve always believed that issues around the protocol can be resolved through negotiation.

“But I’ve also believed that it’s important to allow both the EU and the UK negotiators space and time to get into the detail and to work on the detail of this agreement.

“There’s obviously a journey to travel yet. I spoke with the leaders of the parties yesterday; I think all have a desire to get the [Stormont] executive assembly in Northern Ireland restored,” the Tánaiste added.

Martin admitted that there are challenges in relation to that and he intends to meet the Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris later this week to “take up the discussions”.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to form a Stormont Executive since last May’s Assembly elections over concerns it has in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

legislation Northern Ireland Protocol
Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont


Meanwhile, Seán Kelly MEP and leader of Fine Gael in the European Parliament, has welcomed the “positive mood music” on a possible EU-UK agreement on the protocol.

“An agreement on the sharing of customs data is a significant breakthrough in the negotiations, I am cautiously optimistic that a deal can be reached on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” MEP Kelly said.

The Ireland South MEP was speaking from Brussels, following a joint announcement from commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, and UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, that a way forward has been agreed on data sharing related to goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“While this may seem like a technical point, once the EU is granted adequate access to UK customs databases, it can make a facts-based assessment on the risk of goods being smuggled into the single market via Northern Ireland,” Kelly added.

“On foot of this, the EU may be in a position to grant greater flexibilities in the implementation of the protocol, once we can be sure that the risks to the integrity of the single market are low.

“If the EU did not require any checks in the Irish Sea, it could leave itself open to legal challenges from other companies that feel their competitors in Northern Ireland have an unfair competitive advantage,” he added.

“We are seeing trust gradually being rebuilt on both sides of the Channel, that’s a very positive development. Let’s hope this continues.”

According to the MEP, if a joint solution can be reached on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the next challenge will be selling any agreement between the EU and UK negotiators to the DUP.