Distance scaled

Council meets after lengthy hiatus

Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster, appropriately socially distanced, at Friday's North South Ministerial Council meeting in Dublin. Julien Behal Photography.

By Irish Echo Staff

Ireland's North South Ministerial Council has held its first meeting in three-and-a-half years and the verdict from both sides is that it was a very positive and open one.

The hiatus was primarily due to the absence of power sharing in Belfast.

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The Dublin and Belfast administrations, meeting in Dublin, discussed ways of improving co-operation in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges Brexit will pose for the island of Ireland, RTE reported.

Speaking at a press conference at Dublin Castle, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: "It was a warm meeting, it was a meeting in which a wide array of views were expressed. North-South co-operation is a key priority for our government.

"It was extensive and constructive and we had a particularly good conversation about Covid-19."

Mr. Martin, according to the RTE report, said that the chief medical officers in the Republic and Northern Ireland were working well together and the challenge for both north and south was keeping the community transmission low.

Martin also told reporters that there had been "a general discussion on Brexit" and that officials had promised to engage on the technical aspects of the post-Brexit protocol.

North Minister Arlene Foster described the meeting as "worthwhile and productive."

She said: "We went some time speaking upon the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union and seeking to benefit and get the maximum benefit from that.

"It has been a very useful engagement today and it was good to meet with some old faces and some very new faces and I think we have had a very worthwhile and productive meeting and I look forward to greeting members of the Irish government at our next plenary meeting in Armagh in December," Foster said.

A good deal of the discussions focused on the Common Travel Area between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and also overall travel restrictions and rules arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked about Brexit, Foster said: "We want to see a comprehensive free trade deal, quota free deal and I welcome the commentary in relation to a lack of a border north south. We also don't want to see borders developing east-west in relation to trade either."

North Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said after three-and-a-half years, it was good for both administrations to meet again.

"I'm delighted that we have paved the way for more meetings to take place in the years ahead. I think that when we restored the Assembly and Executive back in January - I don't think any of us would have predicted that we would have been dealing with a global pandemic.

"We had a good wide ranging discussion on a variety of issues such as climate, greenways, infrastructure projects, Brexit and Covid-19. I think it is interesting that we meet in this format today where we have eight parties in government in some form or other.

"Our co-operation is more important than ever as we continue to respond to the biggest health emergency we have ever faced and when we reflect on the previous months, we must reflect on the fact that 2,320 people have died from Covid on this island alone."

O'Neill said the virus knows no borders and there needs to be a joined up approach as much as possible.