The political status in Ireland
Following the 2020 General Election, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party voted to go into government together in late-June. Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin has assumed the position of Taoiseach, taking over from Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar TD. The new government represents the first coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which have held the position of Taoiseach between them since its establishment in 1937; the new allegiance was spurred in large part due to a significant decline in support for the parties as the republican Sinn Féin won the second most seats in the election behind Fianna Fáil. Varadkar currently serves as deputy prime minister in the coalition but is due to swap places with Martin in December 2022.
Ireland have taken their first steps out of a strict lockdown, easing their way out of tier 5 through the modest relaxation of travel limits, a return to school for all pupils, and slightly more relaxed rules around meeting outdoors. To date, Ireland has reported that just under 800,000 first doses and just over 300,000 second doses of the vaccine have been administered. Although the vaccination programme has had a slow start in comparison to that of the UK, the first steps of relaxation of the rules has been welcomed in Ireland and the vaccination programme is set to pick up with Johnson & Johnson preparing to send out its first batch of vaccinations across the EU.
Beyond Covid-19, violent outbursts in West Belfast in Northern Ireland between loyalist militants and riot police broke out amid growing tension around the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has elicited new barriers to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, implemented in the post-Brexit trade agreement. Although the riots seem to be easing, senior politicians have stressed the need for discussion and cooperation to ensure that further violence does not escalate. The fact that unionists felt their “sense of Britishness” was being “stripped away” by the Northern Ireland protocol has been widely regarded as the key cause of the violence. Engagement between Dublin and London has been called for to put an end to the tension, with understanding needed from both sides to ensure that a solution is found to the frustrations felt in Northern Ireland.