Ireland believes shared will now exists to resolve North protocol row

Government’s criticism of Russian invasion of Ukraine escalates in New York as State seeks to make its mark during UN week

Around Grand Central Station in New York, the flags of the United States and the United Kingdom flew interlinked on the lamp-posts, presumably as a symbol of solidarity on the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

At the United Nations, a half mile or so up East 42nd street, where various world leaders were scheduled to address the general assembly, the issue of Northern Ireland again seemed set to overshadow the relationship between Washington and London.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a media briefing in the White House on Tuesday that President Joe Biden would “speak in some detail” about the Northern Ireland protocol with British prime minister Liz Truss during a meeting at the UN on Wednesday.

“The president will communicate his strong view that the Good Friday Agreement, which is the touchstone of peace and stability in Northern Ireland, must be protected and we must collectively take steps — the US, the UK, the parties in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland — to ensure that it is protected,” he said.


Sullivan is reportedly well briefed and knowledgeable on the ins and out of the post-Brexit protocol. Needless to say his comments went down well with the Irish side, who are anxious that the Biden administration continues to take a keen interest in the issue.

As their bilateral meeting commenced on Wednesday, Biden said publicly to Truss while the media was still present: “We are both committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement of Northern Ireland. And I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind.”

Truss said she was looking forward to discussing how to make sure the agreement is “upheld into the future”.

A senior Biden administration official later described the discussion as “candid” and said Truss laid out her view and that the president made very clear what he said publicly, which is that protecting the “gains of the Good Friday Agreement is a matter of bipartisan importance in the United States and a matter of personal importance to him as president. And he was very clear about that”.

Truss has held talks on the matter with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Taoiseach Micheál Martin over the last week, and the Biden official said the prime minister had “sounded a constructive note about her engagements with both leaders”.

“This was not a set to or a digging in,” the official added.

The Taoiseach had been expected to meet Biden at a reception on Wednesday evening in New York. However, Martin’s bad luck regarding engagements in the United States continued. After contracting Covid-19 during his St Patrick’s Day visit, and missing out on a planned visit to the White House, he on this occasion saw his flight from Dublin have to turn back and the delay meant he could not make it to New York in time.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney did attend. He said the president specifically said to him that he had “made it very clear” to Truss that the peace accords (as he described them) needed to be protected in the context of the ongoing discussions on the protocol.

Martin eventually arrived in the early hours of Thursday in advance of a round of media and official engagements culminating with his address to the UN general assembly.

The mood surrounding progress on the protocol appeared better. He told Irish media there was a desire to “see can we get this resolved”.

He later told Bloomberg that although he would not underestimate the difficulties of reaching a deal, he believed there was now a will to secure a resolution — which he believed had not always been the case.. Martin said he felt there was a shared determination to get the issue resolved during his meeting with Truss last week.

“In the context of the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth, at the weekend I met many members of the British cabinet and world leaders and people took a step back and reflected (and) given the late queen’s contribution to diplomacy and better relations between Britain and Ireland, many people are saying we have to give this a very determined go,” he said.

“I would have had concerns about the absence of the will in the past to get it resolved. It is clear there is a will now on all sides and where there is a will, there is always a means to doing that.”

On the Irish side, there is a view that the “mood in the room” has changed. However, they are waiting to see if this can lead to a deal being reached when the real negotiations get under way.

Northern Ireland was by no means the big item on the agenda in New York.

The Government wanted to highlight a big commitment to tackling childhood malnutrition and diseases such as Aids, TB and malaria. It announced a €110 million investment in new initiatives.

However, Russia’s move on Wednesday to escalate the conflict in Ukraine overshadowed everything. The Government has long nailed its colours to the mast in its criticism of Moscow over its invasion, but the Taoiseach went further on Thursday and described Russia as behaving like a “rogue state”.

Ireland, in principle, also backs Ukraine in seeking some form of legal mechanism to try Russia for aggression in addition to supporting cases in international courts over alleged war crimes. Coveney was one of the first European foreign ministers to visit Ukraine after the war started in February and has strongly condemned Russian atrocities he saw in places such as Bucha.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed these claims as fabrications, leading to suggestions he was, in effect, calling Coveney a liar. The Fine Gael TD rejected Lavrov’s comments as more Russian disinformation. He insisted that what he saw in Bucha was no fabrication.

From the outset, dealing with Russian disinformation was high on the Taoiseach’s list of objectives for his UN visit, and, apart from his address to the general assembly, UN week provides an opportunity for Irish political leaders to meet bilaterally with their counterparts from across the world.

Martin was scheduled to hold talks to political figures from Africa and South America countries. Among European capitals there is concern that a Russian narrative about rising food and energy prices being a consequence of western-imposed sanctions are gaining some traction.

In his bilateral meetings, the Taoiseach was keen to push back against these claims and insist that the crisis stems directly from Russia’s actions.