Brexit: Irish support for deal harming NI, says DUP leader

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Media caption,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson wants Ireland to encourage the EU to change its stance on the Northern Ireland Protocol

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused the Irish government of "harming" Northern Ireland's relationship with the rest of the UK through its support for the Brexit deal.

His comment came after he met Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin.

Their meeting in Dublin was their first since Sir Jeffrey became DUP leader.

Mr Martin said he accepted unionists had "genuine concerns" over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

But Sir Jeffrey warned that relations between Dublin and Stormont could become "untenable" if problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol could not be resolved.

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Micheál Martin says he accepts that unionists' have concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol

He called on the EU to "change its tune" on the protocol, which was agreed by the UK and EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

It does that by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods.

That has created a new trade border in the Irish Sea, which is strongly opposed by unionists in Northern Ireland.

"If the Irish government persists in harming our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom through this protocol then of course that has an impact on our relationship with Dublin," said Sir Jeffrey.

"We are expected to operate as normal on a north-south basis - that is not a tenable position and not one I intend to continue with if we cannot resolve the issues around the protocol and do so quickly."

'Different perspective'

The DUP leader said he told the taoiseach that unionists' concerns that the protocol was having an negative effect on Northern Ireland were "certainly not diminishing".

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The EU is "ready to respond" to concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol, says Micheál Martin

He cited the "harm that it's doing to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and the "political harm" it could cause ahead of next year's Stormont assembly election.

"We need to address those issues and do so quickly - we need to remove the border that has developed between GB and Northern Ireland in trading terms," he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Martin said he would continue to speak to unionists about their worries in relation to the protocol.

He called for a focus on maintaining relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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Image caption,
Micheál Martin and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson met at Government Buildings in Dublin

"It would be awful if there was to be any disruption of that progressive work," he said.

"I accept from a unionist perspective that they have genuine concerns.

"We don't necessarily agree that they're ones that can't be overcome - we'd have a different perspective to that - but I acknowledge the sincerity of the perspective that has been articulated to us.

"Europe wants to help here but there needs to be very clear presentation from the UK side in terms of where they see the resolution of this."

On Thursday the Northern Ireland Protocol was a key topic of discussion when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Dublin, where he met both Mr Martin and Irish President Michael D Higgins.

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Emmanuel Macron says Ireland has a "faithful friend" in France

In the past Mr Macron has ruled out any renegotiation of the Brexit deal.

During his visit to Áras an Uachtaráin, the Irish president's residence, Mr Macron wrote in the guestbook that Ireland "occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream".

Mr Macron's note explained that France would remain a "faithful friend for the future".

In June, Sir Jeffrey's predecessor as DUP leader Edwin Poots visited Dublin and met Mr Martin along with DUP colleague Paul Givan, who has since become first minister of Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots said Mr Martin recognised the "genuine concerns in unionist and loyalist communities around the protocol".

But Mr Poots was ousted within 50 days of becoming DUP leader and was replaced by Sir Jeffrey.