Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urges dialogue to resolve protocol issues

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister has urged dialogue to resolve tension over the Brexit Protocol.

Michelle O’Neill was speaking as the UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost gave evidence to the Stormont Executive committee over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He blamed negotiators under former prime minister Theresa May as being responsible to a “very large degree” for issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Unionists are opposed to the protocol, regarding additional checks on goods arriving from Great Britain as a border down the Irish Sea.

Colin McGrath from the SDLP and chairman of the Executive Office Committee greets Brexit minister Lord Frost
Colin McGrath from the SDLP and chairman of the Executive Office Committee greets Brexit minister Lord Frost (Peter Morrison/PA)

There have been demonstrations and legal challenges by unionists to the protocol.

Lord Frost also argued that the problems with the post-Brexit agreement that has caused a trade barrier in the Irish Sea are largely down to the EU’s implementation of the deal he helped broker.

He said the UK Government intends to “implement what we signed up to but it’s the fact of implementation that’s causing the problem”.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson raised the protocol during his first conversation with Prime Minister Boris Johnson since becoming party leader.

He said he told the PM that his “number one objective is to restore our place within the UK internal market”.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol has damaged the economic and constitutional integrity of the Union. We will work with the Prime Minister and others in Parliament to deal with the protocol. It is flawed and cannot remain,” he said.

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Speaking to reporters in Belfast Ms O’Neill urged “firm implementation” of the protocol.

“As we meet here today David Frost is front of the committee in Stormont speaking about the protocol but what we need to see now and what all businesses need is that we have stability and certainty that the issues that need to be resolved are resolved and we need to do that with dialogue – that’s the way in which to do business,” she said.

The Sinn Fein vice president said she does not want to see any disruption to trade either north/south or east/west.

“What we want to see here is every opportunity afforded to local industry to be able to trade freely across the world. Brexit puts barriers to trade, the protocol gives us some protection.

“What we need to see now is firm implementation (of the protocol), the business community needs stability and certainty so the issues that need to be resolved should be resolved collectively with the EU and the British Government working together, not by unilateral action by the British government.”

Ms O’Neill was speaking to the media following a visit alongside Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald to Dale Farm in Belfast.

She said the firm “recently signed a new trade deal that was facilitated as a direct result of the protocol”.