The EU has committed to legislate to address concerns that Brexit could disrupt medicine supplies to Northern Ireland, Stormont parties have said.
Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists said European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic gave a firm assurance to resolve the medicines issue at a meeting in Belfast on Thursday.
Under the terms of the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, the region will fall within the EU’s pharmaceutical regulatory system.
An initial 12-month grace period was agreed to delay the introduction of the new arrangements until 2022.
The region currently secures the vast majority of its drugs from Great Britain and those supply chains were set for serious disruption as a result of the protocol, with warnings that thousands of GB medicines could be withdrawn from sale in Northern Ireland.
It has been one of the most vexed issues in the ongoing political dispute over the protocol.
Emerging from the meeting with Mr Sefcovic at Stormont, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said she believed the matter would be resolved by the end of the year.
“So the issue of medicines is one that we have raised consistently, people have to have the assurance that they can access the medicines that we require and everybody is on the same page in that regard,” she said.
“So there is a solution to this, a solution that we believe can be in place, if not by the autumn certainly by year’s end and it’s very, very important that the EU institutions and the British Government work constructively to make that happen.
“We’re hearing today at first hand and very clearly articulated that the Europeans are ready to move, they are ready to legislate to ensure that there is no question mark for anybody in the north of Ireland requiring medicine that they will be left short and that’s the right way of it.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also said Mr Sefcovic pledged an imminent resolution to the issue.
“Maros Sefcovic was in listening mode and he gave us his opinions on some of the issues that we have and dealing with medicines came up by various political leaders and Maros Sefcovic addressed that, saying that he hoped to legislate in the autumn to take away the whole issue of the medicines and making sure medicines get from the GB to Northern Ireland,” Mr Beattie said.