Martin and Johnson meet in Belfast

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson exchange Covid-19 appropriate greetings in Belfast today. Julien Behal Photography/RollingNews.ie photo

By Irish Echo Staff

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has held his first face-to-face meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson since taking over the top post in Irish government.

The meeting took place in Belfast today with the leaders discussing the coronavirus pandemic, working towards a sustainable economic recovery, and the UK's post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU.

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The meeting came against the backdrop of a record slump in the British economy amid the pandemic, and with just four and a half months before a finalized Brexit.

Mr. Martin said he had a very warm and engaging meeting with Mr. Johnson, RTE was reporting.

The taoiseach said the two discussed the resumption of the institutions in Northern Ireland, and sharing the island in a way that respects the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. Martin, according to the RTE report, said there was a good focus on the British-Irish relationship in the context of Brexit, and the two agreed to create new structures around the relationship to be ready post-Brexit.

He said when the UK was a member of the EU it was easy for relationships to be formed and there was regular contact between ministers and officials. But now, both Ireland and the UK needed to form a new relationship.

On the issue of concluding a deal on Brexit, Mr. Martin said it was not his role to be the referee in talks between the UK and the EU, but he said he believes that "where there's a will there's a way" and he thinks there is a "landing zone" for both sides.

Martin said he and Mr. Johnson had agreed on the necessity for a free trade agreement and said the last thing both countries needed was an economic shock to their systems after the impact of the pandemic.

Mr. Martin said it was particularly fitting the engagement was taking place so soon after the death of former SDLP leader John Hume.

"We remember John at moments like this because he did so much to facilitate these kind of meetings and make them much more regular in the normal course of events," Martin said.

Mr. Johnson agreed that the meeting provided an appropriate moment to remember Hume's legacy.

North First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill also met with Mr. Johnson.

O'Neill said she had called for a British-Irish Council meeting for a Covid-19 response and that it was met favorably by Johnson.

According to the RTE report, Mr. Johnson's visit was also intended to outline the first stage of Britain's plans to mark "the centenary of Northern Ireland's foundation" in May, 1921, this following the partition of Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the centenary year would promote Northern Ireland on a world stage.

He said: "The establishment of a Centenary Forum and Centenary Historical Advisory Panel will offer us the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of people from across the political parties, business, tourism and the voluntary and community sectors."

"It is an occasion to promote Northern Ireland as an attractive place to visit, invest and do business - a place where our young people choose to stay and use their talent to build."

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