Simon Coveney said on Wednesday that he did not think it was likely that Boris Johnson’s government would take what is seen to be the nuclear option of triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Coveney was speaking following comments by Brexit minister Lord Frost at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, in which he hinted that action over Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal could be taken by Christmas as he called for “short, intensive” talks with the EU to get under way swiftly.
If the UK and the EU cannot strike an agreement, Lord Frost said Britain will consider using Article 16.
The move would effectively tear up parts of the deal to avoid a hard border with the Republic, which he negotiated with the EU last December.
Lord Frost told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that he would “soon be sending” new legal texts to the EU with proposals to resolve the “serious political problem”.
“I hope that might change over the next couple of weeks or so. It does need to be resolved though, one way or another, whether it’s through negotiations or Article 16,” he told a fringe event arranged by the Policy Exchange think tank.
Mr Coveney said on RTÉ radio that there had been a lot of “tough talk” this week from Lord Frost.
He insisted that he did not believe that the UK government would use Article 16.
“My understanding is that the British government is not likely to trigger Article 16 any time soon,” he said.
The minister said he believed the UK was “committed to an intensive negotiation process for the rest of this month, with the European Commission, who are developing a new package of measures to try to ensure that we can take on board legitimate concerns that have been expressed with the implementation of the protocol”.
Mr Coveney said that the Government and the EU had listened “very carefully” to Lord Frost’s comments but said that he believed negotiations between the two sides would continue.
“What we’re trying to do here is ensure that it is implemented in as flexible away as possible to reduce its impact, and I wouldn’t read too much into the tough talk at a Conservative Party conference,” he said.
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but as a result has imposed a trade barrier on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.
Unionists want British prime minister Boris Johnson to tear it up, a move he has so far resisted as the UK government presses for a renegotiation with Brussels.
At a conference fringe event this week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We simply cannot allow this situation to continue. And we need to see action taken by the Government within weeks.”
He added: “We need the Government to set up, and to take action to remove this Irish Sea border, remove the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, and fundamentally to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.”
Triggering Article 16 “has its use in the short term”, but legislation was needed “to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the United Kingdom,” he said.