Irish premier to meet Boris Johnson amid tensions in Northern Ireland

Taoiseach Micheal Martin is to meet with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday, an Irish government spokesman has confirmed.

The meeting between the two leaders, which was arranged some time ago, will take place at lunchtime at the Prime Minister’s Chequers estate in Buckinghamshire.

Issues relating to Northern Ireland and the peace process will top the agenda.

A spokesman said: “An Taoiseach Micheal Martin will be hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tomorrow.

“The lunchtime meeting, which was scheduled some time ago, is expected to cover the response to Covid-19, a range of issues relevant to peace and stability in Northern Ireland and the broader British-Irish relationship.”

The meeting comes against the backdrop of a period of unrest in Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson visits Belfast
Boris Johnson (right) and Taoiseach Micheal Martin greet each other with an elbow bump at Hillsborough Castle during the Prime Minister’s visit to Belfast last August (Brian Lawless/PA)

Anger in unionist communities over the Northern Ireland Protocol has been building since the start of the year.

Last month violence spilled out across the region, particularly in Belfast, with people from both unionist and nationalist backgrounds taking part in riots.

It followed anger over the Protocol and PSNI handling of Covid-19 breaches at a Republican funeral.

Suspected paramilitary involvement in the riots was attributed to the South East Antrim UDA, reacting to recent police operations targeting its criminal empire.

There is also uncertainty over the future of Stormont, with a leadership contest under way in the Democratic Unionist Party.

Both candidates, Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, have pledged to ramp up opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, even if it risks collapsing Stormont.

A leadership contest is also under way in the Ulster Unionist Party after Steve Aiken offered his resignation last week.

Meanwhile, families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre have dubbed a letter of apology from Boris Johnson “unacceptable”.

The Ballymurphy families received a letter from the Prime Minister on Thursday in which he expressed his personal sorrow for the “terrible hurt that has been caused” by the deaths of 10 innocent civilians 50 years ago.

On Tuesday, coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that those who died in Belfast in August 1971 were “entirely innocent”.

She found that nine of the 10 had been killed by soldiers and that the use of lethal force was not justified.

However, the Ballymurphy families, who had gathered for a press conference in Belfast, were left angered by the timing and the content of the letter.

Their solicitor, Padraig O Muirigh, broke down as he read out Mr Johnson’s letter, saying he had been left upset by the “disgraceful conduct” of the Prime Minister.

John Teggart, whose father was killed by a soldier at Ballymurphy, said: “The manner in which he has done it is totally unacceptable to the families.”

It comes as moves by the UK Government to introduce a form of amnesty on Troubles prosecutions were met with condemnation on the island of Ireland.

Boris Johnson visits Belfast
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Taoiseach Micheal Martin walking in the gardens at Hillsborough Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

The UK Government is reportedly seeking to introduce a statute of limitations on prosecuting offences committed prior to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Mr Martin said last week that any such proposal would represent a “breach of trust”.

The move would signal the scrapping of a key mechanism agreed by the UK and Irish governments and main Northern Ireland parties in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

The Stormont House proposals included a new independent investigation unit to re-examine all unsolved killings.

Taoiseach Mr Martin said: “The Irish Government is very clear. It has an agreement in place with the British Government and with the parties of Northern Ireland and with many victims’ organisations. That is the Stormont House agreement of 2014.

“Any unilateral move from that would be a breach of trust, as far as we are concerned.”

The DUP and Sinn Fein have also objected to the plans.