This reflective view from the Taoiseach and the Irish Government will be welcomed…

In an interview with the BBC the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said that he regrets the protocol being imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of unionists and nationalists.

This intervention, which is probably a more reflective approach from the Irish Government, will be welcomed by many people in Northern Ireland given that the protocol talks between the UK Government and the EU are at a critical stage.

The intense pressures on the health service, on hospital waiting lists, and on other public services has already increased the pressure on all sides to reach a deal as soon as possible. A deal that will be accepted by all the main political parties here and enable Stormont to function again.

Unfortunately, we have been down this road before. Our hopes being raised but deadlines are passed, and then it eventually coming to nothing. But this time I hope that we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Having a functional government at Stormont is critical to the negotiation and implementation process and, Mr Varadkar is correct that, at times, during the intensive Brexit period the political vacuum here in Northern Ireland did not help or make the inter-community discussions any easy.

However, I do recall Leo Varadkar making a concerted effort to meet with civic groups in Northern Ireland, to listen to their views and engage with various representatives from civic society.

I personally met with him with a group of fellow civic activists, just after Brexit and before the NI Protocol came into effect. At that time, I distinctly remember him saying that he thought this (Brexit) was all so unnecessary. He also appeared exasperated with the whole Brexit situation which the south had found themselves in through no fault of their own.

I am only speculating, but maybe Dublin had their sights on the immediate concerns of Brexit, which is understandable given the potential disruption to trade across the region and the associated impact that this would have on their thriving economy. While the wider impacts of the protocol, and the associated community tensions that subsequently ensued, came about over a much longer period of time. In politics, sometimes, timing can be everything.

Therefore, I think that this reflective, or softening, view from the Taoiseach and the Irish Government this week will be welcomed by groups across Northern Ireland and will eventually lead to a normalisation of a situation and of relationships north-south and east-west.

This is clearly a positive step forward. And I really hope that all sides – whilst reflecting on everything that has gone before – will enter into this next stage of negotiations and agreements with a determined but conciliatory approach.

Now is the time for level-headedness and for practical and workable solutions. And most critically, when there is an agreement, that this is communicated in a measured and thoughtful way so that everyone in Northern Ireland can finally feel a sense of closure to this fractious period.

When this is complete, and I am confident that there will be a solution, that everyone who has been involved will have a deeper understanding of the sensitives in this part of the world, will maybe reflect on the lessons learned, and enable all sections of our community to work together, in common interest, to make this place work for the better.

And finally, it is important that, when there is hope of an UK Government / EU agreement and the mood music is changing, a positive relationship is maintained between the north and south.


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