Irish premier warns of 'very serious harm' in NI if people continue to weaponise Brexit to stir division

Harry Yorke
·2 min read
Nationalists attack police vehicles as they deploy water canons on Springfield Road just up from Peace Wall interface gates which divide the nationalist and loyalist communities on April 8, 2021 in Belfast - Charles McQuillan/Getty 
Nationalists attack police vehicles as they deploy water canons on Springfield Road just up from Peace Wall interface gates which divide the nationalist and loyalist communities on April 8, 2021 in Belfast - Charles McQuillan/Getty

The Irish premier has warned of “very serious harm” in Northern Ireland if people continue to weaponise Brexit to stir up divisions.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said on Sunday that the rioting of recent weeks evidence of what could happen when “sectarian tensions are left to grow” and “encouraged by political events.”

While acknowledging Brexit had been a factor in heightening tensions among loyalists, he said he “sincerely” believed the Northern Ireland Protocol, which requires the province to continue applying EU checks and rules, was necessary to limit the disruption caused by the UK leaving the EU.

In an apparent swipe at the DUP and some Brexiteers who have called for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be scrapped, he also claimed that attempts to “misrepresent” the protocol meant the “damage can go much further”.

His comments are likely to only intensify frustration among unionists in Northern Ireland, who have long accused the Irish government of failing to listen to the concerns of businesses and consumers in the province.

While the UK has acted unilaterally to ease the burden on trade and supermarkets moving goods across the Irish Sea, critics say the protocol is fundamentally flawed and cannot be salvaged.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin - Brian Lawless/PA 
Taoiseach Micheal Martin - Brian Lawless/PA

However, speaking at his party’s annual 1916 Easter Rising commemoration, the Fianna Fail leader said it was a "fair conclusion to attempts to limit the potential destructiveness of Brexit on this island".

“It is important to say that very serious harm can come if we keep seeing people trying to use Brexit as an issue to create points of dispute or by presenting every single issue as a zero-sum, win-lose fight.

"When this approach is followed in relation to UK-EU relations the damage it causes is primarily economic.

"When it involves misrepresenting the arrangements for Northern Ireland the damage can go much further."

It came as Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president in charge of Brexit relations, yesterday said he was convinced solutions could be found to “minimise” the impact of the protocol on Northern Ireland.

Speaking after a meeting in Brussels on Thursday with Lord Frost, the UK’s EU minister, he told the Financial Times: “It’s not easy to do, it’s a massive, massive task.

“But what we need is the good faith approach and the proper implementation of all the commitments [already] undertaken, so we see the system working, and then we can look at the risks which are associated with different measures being applied.

“We also ask our UK colleagues to tell us how [they] want to minimise the risk.”