US Delegation in visit to Republic amid ongoing Northern Ireland Protocol row

The US Delegation being greeted by Minister for Education Norma Foley at Kerry Airport. Credit: @USEmbassyDublin

A US delegation is in Ireland as part of a trade mission to "underscore the significance of the Good Friday Agreement.

The group of key US politicians have already visited Brussels and London as part of their trip, and are expected in Northern Ireland later in the week.

The trip comes amidst the ongoing Stormont stalemate over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Brexit and the Northern Ireland are expected to be top of the agenda at a working lunch between the politicians and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney later today.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Minister Coveney said: “The return of in-person visits between Ireland and the United States is crucial as we embark on re-engaging and rebuilding economically post-Covid.

"I welcome this hugely positive opportunity to engage with and brief this Congressional delegation on key international issues that are affecting Irish citizens. I look forward to an exchange over lunch on Northern Ireland, ahead of the delegation’s visit there next week, and on all aspects of Ireland-US relations: including immigration and people-to-people links; on our mutually beneficial trade and economic relationship; as well as key international issues, including how Ireland can play a constructive role in strengthening the EU-US relationship now and into the future”. During their time in Ireland the Congressional Delegation will also meet with President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin T.D.

Congressman Neal will also address the Seanad on Tuesday evening.

Speaking from west Kerry on Sunday, Richie Neal said "whatever challenges that are offered by the protocol, we think can be negotiated".

"President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and I have made our position known that nothing can jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement," he told RTE.

"Coming up to the 25th anniversary it should be celebrated widely, not just on this island, but across the world."

DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said the DUP looks forward to meeting the US delegation later this week, but added that "they must recognise that the protocol has undermined the Good Friday Agreement".

"Since the protocol's inception, not one unionist MLA or MP has supported it, yet it has continued to have the support of Washington throughout," Mr Lyons said.

"Key influencers in the US administration have continually demonstrated a total misunderstanding of the Belfast Agreement, the border and consent.

"They should admit their one-side mistakes if they want to be taken seriously by unionists.

"It is high time the American administration recognised the fundamental importance of securing the support of both unionists and nationalists. Without such support devolution cannot function."

There has been controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol since its inception.

Created to avoid the return of checkpoints along the Irish border, after years of negotiation it was agreed that new Brexit regulatory and customs processes would be placed along the Irish Sea.

Both London and Brussels agreed to this as part of the final Brexit negotiations.

Since its implementation in early 2021, the EU and UK agree that the protocol does not work as smoothly as it should, and both sides engaged in further negotiations.

Grace periods were introduced for some new Brexit trade rules in the protocol, meaning retailers and exporters do not yet have to adhere to all the checks and standards required.