A British-Irish Council (BIC) summit meeting has taken place in Co Fermanagh, attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and UK cabinet minister Michael Gove.
The meeting, which is one of Mrs Foster’s last engagements as First Minister before her formal resignation, took place in her home constituency and focused on Covid-19 recovery.
Ahead of the discussions, Mrs Foster welcomed the participants to “wonderful Fermanagh”, adding: “I am just really pleased that we can have this British-Irish Council in person.”
Ms O’Neill added: “We’re absolutely delighted to be hosting the BIC meeting here today and it is absolutely brilliant to see people in the place and have face to face conversations again.”
Leaving the meeting, Mrs Foster joked with reporters by singing lines from Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’.
The few lines received a round of applause from British and Irish leaders, which she followed by saying: “I think it’s a good way to end my political career at the British-Irish Council meeting in Fermanagh, because it has absolutely encapsulated the totality of relationships and I am pleased everyone is here.”
Following the meeting, Mr Martin said he believes discussions between the EU and UK over difficulties with the Northern Ireland Protocol should now “pick up momentum”.
He added: “From our perspective we believe the mechanisms exist within the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol to facilitate a working out of these issues.
“There are issues to be refined and resolved and we acknowledge that, but we believe the mechanisms within the framework agreement facilitate that. I think there is opportunity within that framework to resolve this.
“I think discussions should pick up momentum, they did it before prior to the Brexit deal being signed off so, in my view, it is in the capacity of both the UK government and the European Union to arrive at an agreement here.
“Ireland, as members of the EU, we have appraised people of the sensitivities of all of this, we want to be helpful. I do think there is potential.”