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British-Irish relationship ‘a lot better’ today

The relationship between Britain and Ireland is “a lot better” today than it was a year ago, according to Taoiseach Simon Harris.

The Fine Gael leader has also vowed to work with the governments across the UK to “realise the full potential” of all communities.

Mr Harris made the comments as he addressed the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (Bipa) at Druids Glen Hotel in Newtown Mount Kennedy, Co Wicklow.

It was the first time he has spoken as Taoiseach at a meeting of Irish and UK parliamentarians.

Praising the political leaders in Northern Ireland, Mr Harris said: “I think British Irish relationships are a lot better now than they were even a year ago, thanks to the Windsor Framework.

“There is now an opportunity to say ‘What’s next? What more can we do together?’ And I look forward to exploring that because both the First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) and the deputy First Minister (Emma Little-Pengelly) were very clear that they are determined to work together on shared objectives in a practical and pragmatic way and to work with the Government of Ireland in the same spirit.

“The Government of Ireland will likewise continue to work to realise the full potential of cooperation and dialogue across borders and communities. This is at the heart of the Government’s shared islands initiative.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris with Minister of State Thomas Byrne (Image: RollingNews)

Mr Harris told delegates that, as the world becomes ever more competitive, they need to work together to help “grow the size of the pie” so everyone across the islands benefit.

He reminded the audience that he was not old enough to vote in the Good Friday Agreement, but that he is now the head of government in the Republic.

“We need to really consider this. There’s a whole generation of people who are yearning to be involved in a conversation about the future, in a conversation about how we work together, in a conversation that is not meant to be divisive and not meant to be argumentative, but in a conversation about what are the practical areas in which we can work together and how do we get to know each other better,” he added.

“I’m also, if I’m being very honest, of a generation where people are more familiar now with London and Berlin and Paris than they might be with Belfast or Derry.

“I think we really have to challenge ourselves, emblems aside – how do we actually make sure people on this island and these islands get to know each other better?

“Because it is interpersonal relationships, it’s knowing each other, it’s being familiar with each other that is the key to embedding peace.

“I think there’s a challenge in all of us and a challenge I pose to this assembly today. How do we get talking again and how do we get people knowing each other?”

Irish co-chair Brendan Smith, Taoiseach Simon Harris and British co-chair Karen Bradley (Image: RollingNews)

He also praised past political leaders who were instrumental in bringing peace in Northern Ireland, but said the public have yet to see the full benefit of their achievements.

“I want us to reflect how, in this turbulent world, we can make these islands a better place for the generations that follow us,” he said.

“I often think the last generation gave us the most incredible gift possible, they gave us a peace process. They gave us peace. They gave us a framework, and they gave us one of the most enduring peace processes possible.

“But, if we’re to be self-critical, we have yet to see the full benefit of it. We’ve seen the peace elements, now we must see the prosperity element.”


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