Taoiseach rejects suggestion Biden does not understand Northern Ireland

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Micheal Martin speaking in New York

Q Radio News/PA

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has pushed back against suggestions that President Joe Biden does not fully understand the post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Mr Martin, speaking in New York, told reporters: “Anybody who suggests President Biden doesn’t get Northern Ireland or understand it is wrong. He understands it very well.” 

On Wednesday, Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested Mr Biden’s concerns about Northern Ireland were based on “just reading the headlines” and listening to accounts from the European Union.

He suggested Mr Biden is “wrong” to have concerns about the Good Friday Agreement and does not “fully appreciate” the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The comments came following a meeting between Mr Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Martin, who will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday, said Irish diplomats in Washington have taken every opportunity to brief the US administration on the situation in Northern Ireland. 

He also suggested that he was confident a solution could be found to the ongoing row between London and Brussels over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

The protocol means Northern Ireland is effectively in the EU’s single market for goods, to avoid a hard border with Ireland, which creates a trade barrier for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

“The focus has to switch now, for the UK Government, the Irish Government and the EU working in partnership to resolve these issues,” Mr Martin said. 

“I believe the European Union is up for a solution. 

“Where there’s a will there’s a way and these issues can be resolved.” 

President Joe Biden and PM Boris Johnson at the White House

At the Oval Office meeting, Mr Biden told reporters: “We’re going to talk a little bit about trade today and we’re going to have to work that through.”

He said he felt “very strongly” about issues surrounding the peace process, as problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol persisted.

“I would not at all like to see – nor, I might add, would many of my Republican colleagues like to see – a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Johnson said “that’s absolutely right”, adding: “On that point, Joe, we’re completely at one, nobody wants to see anything that interrupts or unbalances the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister updated Mr Biden on developments with the protocol since they last met in June.

“The leaders agreed on the importance of protecting peace in Northern Ireland.”

The White House said Mr Biden “reiterated his longstanding support for a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace”.

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