Northern Ireland Protocol goes to Washington as politicians travel for St Patrick's Day

Video report by UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee

Politicians from both sides of the border are holding meetings with US Government representatives as the White House gears up for the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations on Thursday.

It is an opportunity for them to speak to American representatives, and this time one of the main topics of discussion will be the NI Protocol.

While unionist leaders have not travelled, the DUP's Gordon Lyons is there in his position as Economy Minister. He is meeting with representatives of the US State Department and will attend a reception at the White House and the Speaker's lunch.

He said there needed to be a "better understanding" of the protocol and its impact in Northern Ireland and how rather than "solving problems... it is actually contributing to them".

"That has not been grasped, and that is one of the main reasons why I am here," he told UTV.

NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has also travelled and as well as meeting US administration officials will also meet the EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic.

He said he will be stressing to the EU commissioner how resolving issues around the protocol will help Northern Ireland prosper.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald and Vice President Michelle O'Neill are both in Washington to canvas American lawmakers, as is former deputy First Minister Mark Durkan.

Ms McDonald said the "core message" for them was "defending" the Good Friday Agreement the institutions and east-west infrastructure.

"Ensuring Ireland isn't damaged by Brexit, ensuring that the protocol works and that we see investment in the services people need and opportunities, particularly for young people," she said.

Mr Durkan said there was a real sense of renewal given the inability to host such a gathering over the past two years.

"Everyone had been connecting on Zoom... It is great that everyone can get together, get the heads together and basically chat," he added.

Members of the US congress have been offering their own views on what the row over the NI protocol means for the peace process.

Irish-American Congressman Ritchie Neal called for all parties to "honour" the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, and said he believed the differences over the protocol "should be, and can be, smoothed out".