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EU will be 'calm and firm' on NI protocol changes

The EU will respond in a "calm and firm" manner to whatever changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol are proposed by the UK, the Taoiseach says.

A British government bill to alter the agreement is expected to be published this week, in a unilateral move by Boris Johnson's government.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Micheál Martin said that he believed that while there are "reasonable" criticisms of the protocol, most businesses in Northern Ireland were in favour of it.

He said the EU chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič has a "clear desire to arrive at a negotiated solution" in talks.

"His flexibility was clear," Mr Martin said after a meeting with Mr Šefčovič.

"He has been flexible to date, he remains flexible and he remains in solution mode. For the British government, really, it's time not to go down the unilateral route, but rather to engage substantively with the EU Commission on the issues that have been legitimately raised by unionism and others in terms of the operation of the Protocol."

EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has a 'desire' to find a 'negotiated solution' according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has a 'desire' to find a 'negotiated solution' according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin said that while the issues could be resolved, it was vital that the protocol did not become "collateral damage" to infighting in Boris Johnson's government. He said that unilateralism "will not work" in this case and would be "deeply damaging".

"Having met with many people in Northern Ireland and the representatives of trade, those who are in industry and they are very clear that increasingly they talk about this in terms of the benefits to their businesses to jobs and manufacturing. 

"So I would say the British government needs to think in the first instance of the people – particularly those who create jobs – and not do anything that undermines the economic wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland.

"And secondly, I would say that you must abide by international agreements. 

"I don't want to become involved in any shape or form in what has transpired in terms of British politics but I've engaged with Boris Johnson used the prime minister and appealed to him consistently to engage with the European Union, who have shown flexibility.

"I get a sense that people want a bit of stability, that people want to steady the ship and I think the first thing we could do collectively, Europe and the UK and Ireland as members of the European Union, is to do the sensible and pragmatic thing, get into negotiations and resolve the issues."

The Taoiseach also said that the Irish Government will use its presidency of the Council of Europe to push back against UK proposals to grant immunity for Troubles-era killings.

Mr Martin said that Ireland would "very strongly" fight the proposed law, saying that there are "jurisdictional issues" around the proposal.

"There can be no circumventing of basic human rights and entitlements of people in respect to the wrongdoing committed by State forces in Northern Ireland anytime that there shouldn't be, because we all benefit from clarity around human rights judgments."

The Taoiseach also said that he believes that the war in Ukraine would see the EU "doubling down" on renewable energy.