Irish PM says he had no prior knowledge of EU’s Article 16 move

Ireland’s Premier Micheal Martin has said he was given no advance notice of the intention by the EU to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol.

The Taoiseach said he first heard about the move in a public statement, and quickly started negotiations with president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

After invoking Article 16 to stop the unimpeded flow of vaccines from the European bloc into Northern Ireland, the EU later backtracked, following condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast.

It is understood that a compromise will see vaccines crossing between the Republic and Northern Ireland being recorded in Dublin, but will not be at risk of being blocked.

Mr Martin told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I had a number of conversations with President von der Leyen and, in the aftermath of those, I also spoke, of course, to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and we discussed the implications of all of this, and the importance of getting a resolution by the close of that evening, Friday evening, and thankfully the commission did issue a statement pulling back and reversing its decision.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster described the move by the EU as an “act of hostility” and has urged Mr Johnson to replace the “unworkable” protocol.

Mr Martin disagreed with that assessment, and instead described it as a row between the EU and AstraZeneca.

He stressed it took four years to negotiate the protocol to facilitate access for Northern Ireland’s economy to the single market as well as to the UK market and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The Taoiseach said: “It’s a good thing, the protocol, overall. There are issues there that we have to fine-tune and work out, but essentially I think there are positives there medium term for Northern Ireland in terms of its economic development which we should not underestimate.

“We are only four weeks into the operation of the protocol, there are bound to be teething problems, but I do acknowledge the need for engagement here on all sides, between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the Irish Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said there is a “strong sense across Europe” that AstraZeneca has not delivered on commitments around the vaccination.

“There’s a very fair point there which cannot be brushed aside, the problem is the commission took the wrong mechanism in invoking Article 16 of the protocol to deal with it,” he said.

“What has gone wrong is clearly that the commitments made in terms of volume levels are not being realised in terms of the contractual engagement between the commission and AstraZeneca.

“The same type of tensions do not appear to have arisen in relation to the other companies.”