By Michelle Devane, PA
The priority in Northern Ireland must be on mending relationships and not planning for a Border poll, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said.
Simon Coveney said there is a “huge problem” with trust in the region and work has to be done first to “settle” the Brexit protocol issue and ensure the Stormont institutions are functioning.
“The focus for now in Northern Ireland has got to be on relationships,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.
“We have a new British prime minister. We have a new secretary of state. We have a new deputy secretary of state, if you like, a new foreign minister in Britain.
“We have a lot of work to do in the context of trying to settle the Northern Ireland Protocol issue.
“We have to listen to unionism as well as, of course, to everybody else in Northern Ireland, and we have to try to make sure that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are functioning again because they have not been functioning for quite some time.”
Mr Coveney’s comments come after census figures showed Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time since the partition of the island.
The Census 2021 figures, published on Thursday, showed that 45.7 per cent of the region’s population said they were either Catholic or brought up as a Catholic.
Mr Coveney said nobody involved in the politics of Northern Ireland who has seen “how things are changing were surprised by that census result”.
Asked about the timing of a potential Border poll, he added: “The priority for now has got to be on getting the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning again.
“Next year, we will recognise 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed. Of course, we have to plan for a potential change in the future and we have to respect different perspectives in relation to what that change might look like, but if we can’t build relationships, it’s very hard to plan for that in a way that is fully inclusive.”
“At the moment there is a huge problem with trust in Northern Ireland, between different political parties and between parties and the two governments. And those relationships have got to be mended. And then of course, we have to plan for the future.”