Northern Ireland seen 'far more grim moments' than Brexit trade row, senior US official says

Richard Neal made the comments in Belfast as talks continue with the main Stormont parties

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Northern Ireland has endured far more grim moments than the current dispute over post-Brexit trade, a senior US Congressman has said.

Richard Neal was commenting as he arrived at Parliament Buildings in Belfast for talks with the main Stormont parties about the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse.

Powersharing is on ice in the region after the DUP refused to re-establish a devolved executive following the recent election in protest at arrangements that have created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Senior US Democrat Richard Neal
Senior US Democrat Richard Neal
Mr Neal is in Belfast for talks with the main Stormont parties
Mr Neal is in Belfast for talks with the main Stormont parties

Unionist politicians have reacted angrily to remarks by Mr Neal in Dublin on Tuesday when he claimed the Protocol dispute was a “manufactured issue”.

Standing in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Mr Neal told reporters: “I have been in this hall many times, through far more grim moments than the one we’re currently witnessing, and I think that the role that we’ve (the US) offered, the dimension that we brought to bear, is overwhelmingly over all of these years been very helpful.

“So, looking forward to what all the parties have to say.”

Mr Neal also spoke of the need to “duly honour” the 25th anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement next year.

“It’s an extraordinary success story,” he added.

Stormont is the latest stop on the US politician’s ongoing visit to the island of Ireland.

The delegation has also held meetings in London and Brussels during its Protocol fact-finding mission.

Many unionists and loyalists are vehemently opposed to the Protocol, claiming its requirement for checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has branded the Congressional visit as “terrible”.

Ahead of his party’s meeting with Mr Neal on Thursday morning, DUP economy minister Gordon Lyons criticised the suggestion that the row about the protocol was manufactured.

“It’s an absolutely disgraceful comment to make,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“And it means that he’s either downplaying the impact that it is having or just doesn’t understand the impact that it is having.”