On March 15, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) at The Brookings Institution hosted Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin for a webinar as part of the Alan and Jane Batkin International Leaders Forum.
Martin opened his keynote remarks by stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that global coordination is critical and that “humanity, when it pulls together, can prevail, even against seemingly impossible odds.” Over the last century, even before Ireland was an independent country, it sought to strengthen multilateralism and promote cooperation. As such, the taoiseach said that Ireland was heartened by President Joe Biden’s reengagement with the country and the world, specifically on climate change, which he stressed would be a priority for Ireland’s 2021-2022 United Nations Security Council membership.
The taoiseach said that Ireland is committed not only to working with the United States to reengage globally, but also to deepening cooperation between the United States and European Union (EU) to work on common values-based issues of democracy, human rights, and freedom, as well as economic issues like trade. He underscored the United States’ critical role in the creation and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement: “the transformative document that underpins [Ireland’s] peace.”
Yet, “peace is fragile” and the United Kingdom (U.K.)’s decision to leave the EU has created “a whole new category of challenges,” the taoiseach said, including the “risk of the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland” and increased trade friction. He pledged to “work with the executive in Northern Ireland and with the British government to address the major challenges we face together on the island.” His government’s Shared Island initiative intends to assist with dialogue in order to reach a conclusion that satisfies all parties.
In a conversation after Martin’s remarks, CUSE Director Thomas Wright asked the taoiseach to reflect on the EU’s approach to COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution, and offer some reforms the European Union could institute to prepare for the next public health crisis. Martin responded that the EU’s joint vaccine procurement had been an incredible success, but that there were lessons to be gained from vaccine manufacturing and production, as well as from the EU authorization process.
On Northern Ireland, Wright highlighted that over the past year, the United States made a number of important interventions to uphold the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement, but since then, both have come under pressure. Martin stated that the importance of adhering to these international agreements could be understated and that he was encouraged by President Biden’s genuine investment in peace in Ireland, as well as Biden’s commitment to renewing multilateralism and the rules-based order.
The taoiseach said that as a key trade partner and investor in the United States, Ireland could serve as an economic bridge between the United States and the European Union, working to ensure a global, free-trade environment. Moreover, the United States could play a constructive role in building alignment between the U.K. and EU on issues relating to the economy and trade.
On Wright’s question regarding the prospects of Irish unification post-Brexit, the taoiseach emphasized his focus on reconciliation, “fully utilizing the Good Friday Agreement,” and building out the Shared Island Initiative in order to restore dialogue between parties.
In closing, Wright asked about the European Union’s plans to roll back travel restrictions. While the taoiseach could not provide a specific timeline in response, he expressed optimism about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations.