Irish deputy premier ‘positive and optimistic’ about future relations with UK

Ireland’s deputy premier has said he is positive and optimistic about future relations with the UK.

Micheal Martin also suggested there could be a “friendly settlement” to the interstate case which Ireland took against the UK over the controversial Legacy Act aimed at addressing Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Tanaiste was speaking to the media as he met new Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn at Hillsborough Castle following Labour’s victory in last week’s General Election.

Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn (left) and Tanaiste Micheal Martin ahead of a meeting at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast
Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn (left) and Tanaiste Micheal Martin ahead of a meeting at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

He said he expected a “wide-ranging” discussion, including the stability of the Stormont Assembly and the opportunity to reset British/Irish relations.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Benn said they discussed the UK Government’s “commitment to economic growth, peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and to foster renewed, close relations with our nearest neighbour”.

“Our relationship with Ireland is of great importance and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Irish Government to reset and strengthen the relationship between our two countries,” he said.

Earlier Mr Martin said they had had a “very good phone call” last week following the UK General Election.

“We know each other. We have a good understanding of each other’s perspective, British/Irish relations and how to advance reconciliation in Northern Ireland,” he said.

There has been tension between the UK and Irish administrations in recent years following Brexit as well as the Conservative government’s controversial legacy Bill on dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Asked for his view on the British/Irish relationship going forward, Mr Martin said he is “positive and optimistic about the future relationship between the British and Irish governments”.

“But also I realise the challenges and I’m realistic in terms of how we meet those challenges, but what I am particularly focused on is to re-establish both governments working hand in hand as anchors of the Good Friday Agreement into the future.

“I think progress was made under Prime Minister Sunak and former secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris in many areas, particularly in terms of the Windsor Framework, but I do believe we have an opportunity to advance the situation on a wide range of issues, to deal with the legacy issue on an amicable basis, to work through that.

“I am positive and I believe there are opportunities here the British and Irish governments can exploit, and I am confident that if we work together we can advance reconciliation, which is my key agenda in the time ahead.”

Asked whether the Irish government intends to continue an interstate case against the UK over the Legacy Act, Mr Martin said he and Mr Benn will “explore the issue”.

“There are mechanisms within the framework of the case which allow for, if you like, a friendly settlement but that will obviously depend on how the British Government is going to deal with that Legacy Act and the core issues,” he said.

“Above all, we believe the pressing issue on legacy is to restore trust in the legacy framework for the victims and families of those who lost their lives in atrocities.

“It is about the families, the survivors and victims.

“We have to restore trust.”