Don’t blame Brexit! Irish premier warns of ‘very serious harm’ over NI Protocol battle

Belfast: Rioters clash with police on the streets

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The Taoiseach made the comments at his party’s annual 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill Cemetery in Dublin yesterday. Violence has broken out in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, with unionist gangs angered in part over the Irish Sea border implemented after Brexit.

Mr Martin said the recent violence in Northern Ireland is what could happen when “sectarian tensions are left to grow” and “encouraged by political events.”

Despite acknowledging Brexit is a factor in enflaming loyalist and unionist supporters, the Taoiseach “sincerely” believes the Northern Ireland Protocol is necessary.

The Fianna Fáil leader then said the Protocol was a “fair conclusion to attempts to limit the potential destructiveness of Brexit on this island”.

He added: “It is important to say that very serious harm can come if we keep seeing people trying to use Brexit as an issue to create points of dispute or by presenting every single issue as a zero-sum, win-lose fight.”

In an apparent swipe at the DUP, Mr Martin added damage over weaponising Brexit could go “much further”.

He said: “When this approach is followed in relation to UK-EU relations the damage it causes is primarily economic.

“When it involves misrepresenting the arrangements for Northern Ireland the damage can go much further.”

As part of the UK and EU’s Brexit trade deal, the Northern Ireland Protocol means European checks and trade rules apply to goods entering the province from Britain.

Northern Ireland also remains part of the EU’s single market under the Protocol, which avoided the creation of a land border in Ireland – a key part of the 1997 Good Friday Agreement.

Northern Irish unionist leaders and groups have voiced outrage over the Protocol, and have accused the Irish Government of failing to listen to the concerns of businesses and consumers in the province.

DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said at an In Conversation online event earlier this month: “What we have is a completely disproportionate situation where trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been severely disrupted.”

It comes after Lord Frost met with Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president, on Thursday to discuss issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Šefčovič told the Financial Times after the meeting he was convinced solutions to “minimise” the Protocol’s impact could be found.

But he added: “What we need is the good faith approach and the proper implementation of all the commitments [already] undertaken, so we see the system working, and then we can look at the risks which are associated with different measures being applied.

“We also ask our UK colleagues to tell us how [they] want to minimise the risk.”

It also comes as loyalists are set to resume demonstrations against the Northern Ireland Protocol today.

The Belfast Telegraph said peaceful pop-up protests would take place across the region, with the gatherings not publicised in advance.

A loyalist told the outlet: “The protests will be peaceful and entirely legal.

“It’s a form of civil disobedience in response to the protocol and the failure to prosecute Sinn Fein leaders over their attendance at the Bobby Storey funeral, which broke coronavirus guidelines.”

The insider admitted to the Belfast Telegraph if the planned protests descended into violence, paramilitaries would not use their influence to bring trouble to an end.

Violence from unionist gangs first broke out in March, after graffiti appeared on walls at Northern Ireland ports describing staff working there as “targets”.

PSNI assistant chief constable Mark McEwan also warned, “we are picking up social media sentiment of a growing discontent, particularly within the Protestant/loyalist/unionist community.”

Two weeks ago, loyalist youths attacked the PSNI with petrol bombs and masonry on Belfast’s Shankill Road and Sandy Row.

Street protests against the Protocol were shelved for a week after the death of Prince Philip, who was buried on Saturday.

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