North-South summit now planned

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill sat down at Stormont Castle last week. Northern Ireland Executive photo.

By Anthony Neeson

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have agreed to hold a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council next week – the first time it has met in more than three years.

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The North-South Ministerial Council was established through the Good Friday Agreement but hasn’t met since Stormont collapsed in 2017.

Mr. Martin travelled north last week to meet Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, no doubt relieved to be temporarily absent from political wrangles in Dublin, where he had to sack his Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen after Cowen refused to come and answer questions in the Dáil over his 2016 driving ban for drink-driving.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr. Martin said: “Overall I am very encouraged by the meetings that I have had and the engagements that I have had. They have been a warm set of meetings. There was a genuine desire on all sides to work closely together in a pragmatic way to the mutual benefit of all the people of different traditions of this island.”

With the Irish government having pledged financial assistance for several cross border projects in the "New Decade, New Approach" deal that restored power-sharing at Stormont, the taoiseach said: “I will be an engaging, understanding taoiseach, trying to keep people together and trying to move forward on the economic front in particular and also in terms of getting projects over the line that we have been talking about for some time.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said a positive working relationship between north and south was in everyone’s interest.

“As two jurisdictions sharing an island it makes perfect sense that Northern Ireland seeks to build a positive relationship with our neighbors in the Republic of Ireland. We have seen the benefits of collaboration through the North West Cancer Centre and the all-island Congenital Heart Disease Network, for example.

“I told the taoiseach that I am keen to have positive dialogue during his tenure based on mutual respect for both jurisdictions and understanding of each other’s differences. I look forward to continuing that engagement in the future to the benefit of the people who live here.”

Michelle O’Neill said the need for a “joined up approach across the island” was discussed during the meeting.

“I look forward to working on a north-south basis to ensure those crucial funding and practical commitments are fulfilled as soon as possible.”