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Northern Ireland should be ‘front and centre’ of Tory leadership race, says McGuinness

Northern Ireland should be ‘front and centre’ of Tory leadership race, says McGuinness

Updated 3 hours ago

IRELAND’S EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER Mairead McGuinness has said she hopes Northern Ireland will be “front and centre” in the race to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister.

Nine Conservative MPs have announced their bid to replace Boris Johnson, but none have diverged from the party’s stance on overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol through a bill which is currently before the House of Commons.

Speaking on RTÉ News at One, McGuinness said: “What has been difficult for us to understand is this idea that unilateral action will solve those difficulties with the legislation that is halfway through the process in the House of Commons.

“But we will be looking to see what comes of the change at leadership level in the Conservative party.

“I hope that Northern Ireland will be front and center of the election campaign in the Conservative party, to good effect – in other words, that there will be an understanding of the benefits that accrue to Northern Ireland, by its access to the single market.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she does not believe a “sea change” on the Protocol would come with a new Prime Minister.

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, McDonald said: “I’m not one bit naive about the Tories … Are the Tories going to change their mind as regards Ireland? Do leopards change their spots?”

But she said “this could prove to be a moment where things are at least partially reset”, with “big diplomatic pressure” from Ireland and elsewhere.

“The Irish state needs to leverage all of the diplomatic clout that it has.”

But the government is striking a more optimistic note.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, junior minister Pippa Hackett said that “we have to be hopeful at this stage.

“[We have to] hope whoever does replace Boris Johnson will give us all the opportunity to reset our relationship with the UK, the UK’s relationship with Northern Ireland’s, and maybe most importantly, the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But she said “a lot of this will come down to whoever leads the Conservative Party.”

On the same programme, Matthew O’Toole, a Stormont MLA for the SDLP and a former Downing St civil servant, said he did not believe the new prime minister would “take a more rational, balanced approach to dealing with Ireland.

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“I wouldn’t assume that whoever replaces [Johnson] will somehow be a more enlightened or more responsible actor.”

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the News at One that recent government members in the UK had little interest in Northern Ireland because of Boris Johnson.

He said the governments of David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were invested in Northern Ireland “because the Prime Minister took a personal interest in the issue.

Johnson did not, Ahern said. “So we now have to try and work really, really hard to get a good relationship with the next crew.”

– With reporting from Lauren Boland

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