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Republic and Northern Ireland's ministers can work together on Brexit and coronavirus, says Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said he is confident ministers on both sides of the border can work together on Brexit and coronavirus. 

During his first visit to Belfast as Taoiseach, Mr Martin met with the First and Deputy First Ministers as well as three smaller Stormont parties.

Speaking afterwards, he said the wide ranging discussions focused on suppressing any spikes in Covid-19 and minimising any economic disruption caused by Brexit.

This included pushing for a free trade deal between the UK and the European Union.

On all Ireland cooperation, Mr Martin said the Good Friday Agreement would remain “the defining blueprint” in a post-Brexit world.

“That is without prejudice to peoples’ political views in terms of their sense of the future," he said.

“Given the enormous change that is taking place, there is a need to do some significant work together in terms of...how we share the island in peace and in harmony.”

The Taoiseach said he was delighted that the first North South Ministerial Council in three years will take place at the end of the month following the Stormont deadlock and disruption caused by Covid-19.

“Overall I’m very encouraged by the meetings I’ve had..a genuine desire on all sides to work together in a pragmatic way, to the mutual benefit of all the people of different traditions on this island.”

Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill were pictured together for the first time since the row over Ms O'Neill's attendance at the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey.

Arlene Foster had vowed not to share a platform with her counterpart while giving public health advice until the matter was resolved.

Mrs Foster said the joint leaders had a productive discussion with Mr Martin around areas of mutual interest.

She added: "Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was a key focus of our conversation as we work simultaneously to protect people and rebuild our economies.

"As two jurisdictions sharing an island, it makes perfect sense that Northern Ireland seeks to build a positive relationship with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.

"We have seen the benefits of collaboration through the North West Cancer Centre and the all-island Congenital Heart Disease Network, for example.

"I told the Taoiseach that I am keen to have positive dialogue during his tenure based on mutual respect for both jurisdictions and understanding of each other's differences.

"I look forward to continuing that engagement in the future for the benefit of the people who live here."

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An Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland. PA Photo.

An Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland. PA Photo.

PA

An Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland. PA Photo.

Michelle O'Neill said they discussed economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the public health response and the need for a joined-up approach across the island.

She added: "We spoke about the potential implications of Brexit and the pressing concerns this raises.

"I set out the need to work together to protect the needs and interests of people and businesses across this island."

She said key to addressing this issue and other strategic challenges was the immediate restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

She added that she was pleased that a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council had been confirmed for July 31.

"It is now six months since the restoration of the Executive and I made clear to Micheal that we must see delivery of all the Irish Government's commitments in New Decade, New Approach.

"I look forward to working on a north-south basis to ensure those crucial funding and practical commitments are fulfilled as soon as possible."

Belfast Telegraph