British-Irish relations have improved in last year – Harris

The relationship between Ireland and the UK has improved over the past year, Simon Harris has said.

However, the man who is set to become Ireland’s next premier acknowledged there were challenges in the relationship and said he was “proud” of the stance his Government had taken over the UK’s controversial Legacy Bill.

Speaking shortly after being confirmed as party leader, Mr Harris said that he looked forward to engaging with the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as well as the recently restored powersharing Executive in Northern Ireland.

Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had differences with the UK Government over Brexit. Relations were also strained when Ireland launched a legal interstate case against the UK’s new laws to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Mr Harris said he had recently hosted a reception in London and met with a number of MPs.

He said: “And I did say to them I do think Irish-British relations are in a much better place this March than they were last March.

“We have seen real progress around the Windsor Framework, we have seen real progress in relation to the Northern Ireland institutions back up and running.

“That is really important. I am determined to work with the Northern Ireland Executive. I look forward to the first North-South Ministerial Council taking place.”

Mr Harris continued: “I welcome, should I be given the honour of serving in the office of taoiseach, an opportunity to engage early with the British prime minister.

“This country remains strongly pro-European, our home in the European Union is crucial to who we are, to our identity and to our economic success.

“But good strong economic, social, personal and interpersonal relations with our nearest neighbour in the United Kingdom is always going to be a major, major part of Ireland’s diplomatic policy.”

Fine Gael leadership
Simon Harris said he was proud of the stance Ireland had taken over the Legacy Bill (Eamon Ward/PA)

The new Fine Gael leader said issues over truth and justice for victims in Northern Ireland still had to be worked through between the two governments.

He said: “There are challenges in the relationship, like there are in any.

“We are all aware of the Legacy Bill and the recent court rulings in Northern Ireland.

“Those matters need to be worked through.

“I am proud of the position adopted by the Irish Government.

“One that wasn’t done lightly at all, but that we will stand by victims and survivors and make sure they have an opportunity for truth and justice.”