Taoiseach Micheál Martin 'regrets' unresolved NI Protocol

In just five days time Micheál Martin will resign as Taoiseach and Leo Varadkar will be appointed in his place.

The transition, or "switcheroo" as it has been labelled by some commentators in Ireland, is the outworking of a deal between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party two years ago when forming a coalition government.

The leaders of the two main parties agreed to take turns at being taoiseach. 

On Saturday, it's the leader of Fine Gael Leo Varadkar's turn.

Micheál Martin has been reflecting on his time in office, dominated by managing the pandemic, but also the difficult relationships and concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to UTV in Dublin, Mr Martin said: "Since Brexit happened there's no doubt that whatever one's perspective on Brexit it has had a significant impact on British Irish relations, on politics within Northern Ireland... It has been a challenge, and not withstanding the challenge we have managed to keep all of the channels of communication open."

He added: "It is a regret that we haven't finalised the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and a subset of that is the protocol."

Micheál Martin reaffirmed his and the Irish government's desire for a negotiated solution to the protocol problems.

The current taoiseach will travel to Brussels this week for his last summit with EU leaders. He will return to Dublin for the transition with Leo Varadkar on Saturday.

Mr Martin will become Tánaiste, deputy prime minister, at the weekend. It's widely believed that he also wants the job of Foreign Affairs Minister, replacing Simon Coveney. 

It would ensure he continues to have contact with issues in Northern Ireland. However, none of the coalition party leaders have confirmed plans for the switching of other cabinet roles.

Asked if he will still have a contribution to make in Northern Ireland in his future choice of role, Micheál Martin did not spell out his plans.  

He did reflect on the never seen before coalition between his party and Fine Gael.

He said: "It's a very interesting political experience that we are developing here, which I think is positive given the fragmentation in the Republic in terms of the multi-party set up we have now... what we are doing here is historic." 

Mr Martin has invested much time and energy in his Shared Island Initiative. 

A project aimed at building cooperation and communication across the island, with funding allocated for cross-border projects.

It's an initiative which some believe may get a boost with a junior minister appointed to head it up in the near future.

He said: "It has really developed critical mass, not just in funding in north south projects but in getting mutual benefit from aligning expertise north and south. 

"And the shared dialogues, new voices, young people, women coming together to discuss issues of mutual concern... I actually think the Shared Island is the way to go in terms of building reconciliation, mutual understanding and stronger connectivity on the island into the future."

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