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Taoiseach to meet with DUP and SF’s O’Neill amid crisis over NI protocol

:: EU offers compromise, but with a threat attached


Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will meet Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill and the DUP in the North within days.

A series of talks will take place on the political paralysis linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol, while Britain prepares to unilaterally move to break its Brexit deal with the European Union.

Mr Martin is expected to cross the Border for talks on Friday. Arrangements are being finalised, and it is understood the DUP is willing to meet him.

Meanwhile, a cross-party US delegation from Capitol Hill is also expected to arrive for consultations next week, which could include talks with the Taoiseach in Dublin.

The moves come after bitter criticism of the declaration by UK foreign secretary Liz Truss that Britain will go it alone by introducing a “trusted trader” system in east-west trade between Northern Ireland and Britain that will rip up customs and sanitary checks.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned that Britain’s unilateral action on the protocol would “cause an awful lot more problems” than it would solve.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the UK was acting “akin to a rogue state”.

Her criticism came as Britain also pressed ahead with new legacy laws that would grant immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during the Troubles.

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Ms Truss announced a law that, if passed, would overwrite elements of the Brexit treaty with the EU and threaten a trade war.

It will give explicit powers to give effect to a new, revised Northern Ireland Protocol, which she said would amount to “fixing” it.

The announcement in Westminster came despite warnings from Mr Coveney that such a move would break an international treaty.

The way to address “outstanding issues linked to Brexit” such as the protocol was “through co-operation, dialogue, negotiation and partnership”, he said.

Earlier Ms Truss told the House of Commons that the UK would bring in a “comprehensive and reasonable” solution which required changes to the protocol itself.

“Our preference remains a negotiated solution with the EU, and, in parallel with the legislation being introduced, we remain open to talks,” she said – making an invitation to the EU’s Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic to meet in London.

Ms Truss claimed “this is not about scrapping the protocol – our aim is to deliver on the protocol’s objectives”, citing the common travel area, single electricity market and North-South co-operation. She warned: “The basis for power-sharing remains strong. However, the Belfast Agreement remains under strain.”

The EU is to offer Britain new concessions on the protocol, but has threatened a trade war if Boris Johnson refuses to agree a compromise.

It is understood the European Commission will propose tweaking the bloc’s own laws to ease checks between mainland Britain and the North in order to end the long-running row over Brexit rules.

According to sources, Mr Sefcovic offered the olive branch in a call with Ms Truss after weeks of acrimony between the pair.

Despite the threat, insiders said Mr Sefcovic was willing to agree significant compromises to virtually eliminate all customs and food safety checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, as he did with medicines.

Britain is proposing a “green channel” for goods with checks applying only to those that may cross the Border.

“It will continue to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland,” Ms Truss said, adding there would be more detail soon.

UK shadow foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Doughty warned the move would damage the UK’s reputation, while “the rest of the world is looking at us”. The move was “deeply troubling”, he said.

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