I am pleased to note that technical level contacts between the EU and UK have been ongoing in recent weeks with the goal of resolving a number of outstanding issues around implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. These contacts are taking place following the agreement last month between Vice President Šefcovic and Lord Frost to facilitate further, intensified discussions at technical level, which I of course wholeheartedly support.
As we know, the Protocol is part of an international agreement. It is a hard won compromise, negotiated over a number of years, which attempts to minimise - as much as possible - the challenges caused by Brexit on the island of Ireland.
The best and only place to deal with any issues relating to Protocol implementation are the structures established for that purpose - the Joint and Specialised Committees. Ireland participates in these meetings as part of the EU delegation.
The EU has also committed to hold further joint engagements with stakeholders in Northern Ireland to listen to the concerns expressed there in relation to certain elements of Protocol implementation. At the same time, I and officials in my Department continue to engage on a very regular basis with stakeholders in Northern Ireland.
We are listening carefully to concerns, including those from the unionist and loyalist communities, and we are committed to supporting engagement between the UK and EU to address them appropriately. It is important, too, to reiterate that the Protocol fully recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK in accordance with the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
I maintain ongoing contacts with British Government counterparts on matters of common interest, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Last month, I held a series of meetings in London with Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Dominic Raab, and a joint meeting with the Secretary of State Lewis, and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost.
Our shared goal must be to achieve the full implementation of the Protocol. It is the agreed way to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, to avoid a hard border and protect the Single Market, and Ireland’s place in it.
It has always been clear that Brexit had the potential to be profoundly disruptive for Northern Ireland. The Protocol is designed to minimise this disruption and reduce the impact. There is no alternative; we have to make it work.
As we work through these issues, we can then look towards the opportunities presented by the Protocol for Northern Ireland – full access to both the UK internal market and the EU Single Market of 450 million people presenting real opportunities for trade, for inward investment, and for jobs which would benefit all communities in Northern Ireland. Politicians and stakeholders from across these islands should be highlighting that and fully exploiting these opportunities.