US delegation and Taoiseach discuss EU-UK impasse on NI protocol

Visiting group led by US Democrat Richard Neal emphasises importance of Belfast pact

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and a United States congressional delegation visiting Dublin discussed the importance of the United Kingdom avoiding unilateral action in its dispute with the European Union over the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.

The delegation is led by high-ranking US Democrat Richard Neal. It is on a trip to the Republic and Northern Ireland this week as the EU and UK remain at loggerheads on a resolution to the extended dispute over implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

The protocol is part of the EU-UK divorce deal agreed in 2019 that covers post-Brexit trading rules for the North. It is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Martin and the US delegation spoke about the need to find a negotiated settlement to the dispute between London and Brussels over the protocol, said the Taoiseach's spokesman.


After their meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin, the spokesman said the delegation had a “great understanding” of the issues around Brexit and the protocol. He described the Taoiseach’s engagement with the delegation as a “very warm meeting.”

The members of congress told the Taoiseach that they wanted to help in any way they could to find a resolution to the row over the protocol and to avoid UK unilateral action, a reference to the British government’s plan to introduce domestic legislation to override parts of the controversial instrument.

“Negotiation, not unilateral action, is the way forward,” said Mr Martin after the meeting.

Wide-ranging meetings

The US congressional members also spoke to the Taoiseach about their meeting with UK foreign secretary Liz Truss in London last week ahead of their visit to Ireland.

The US embassy in Dublin said the Taoiseach and delegation discussed "economic co-operation and the unwavering bipartisan commitment to preserving the Good Friday agreement" – the 1998 Belfast Agreement underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Neal is chairman of the influential House of Representatives ways and means committee that must sign off on any trade deal between the US and the UK. He, along with House speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said repeatedly there will be no US-UK trade deal if Brexit jeopardises the Belfast Agreement.

The delegation also met Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Ms McDonald said later that the resolution to implementation of the protocol will be found in negotiations between the European Commission and UK government "free from threats of unilateral action".

She called on the British government to “abide by international law” and urged the Democrat Unionist Party, which is boycotting a new powersharing administration in the North in opposition to the protocol, to “get back to work and stop blocking the formation of an executive”.

She said the 1998 peace agreement faces challenges “from a British government that plays fast and loose with international law”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times