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Coveney wants NI protocol deal by end of February

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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he wanted an agreement on the protocol to be reached by the end of February.

Mr Coveney said he did not want the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May to be dominated by the ‘polarising’ issue.

It comes after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held her first meeting with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic since she resumed Brexit talks following the resignation of Lord Frost.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Coveney said the meeting marked a ‘reset’ in relations between the EU and UK teams, which are now ‘in a better place than we have seen in a moment”.

He said: “From my conversations with both parties, I think this process will be very serious.

“I think in people’s minds, really, we would like to see if possible these issues resolved by the end of February, so that the Northern Ireland election can go ahead without being dominated by protocol issues. , until the ballot. daytime.

“Elections in the North often polarize enough business without having the added complexity and tension around the protocol and its implementation.

“So I think everyone is aware of their responsibility in terms of trying to bring some stability and certainty to Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Ms Truss said there was a ‘deal to be made’ following her meeting with Mr Sefcovic.

However, she refused to rule out the possibility that the UK could invoke Article 16 – suspending part of the protocol’s provisions – if they could not agree on a way forward.

Mr Coveney insisted the protocol is here to stay and he does not expect the UK to remove the threat of Article 16 until a deal is struck.

He told RTE Radio One: “The Protocol is there. It’s part of an international treaty, it’s part of international law.

“And so the real focus on the EU side is how do we implement this protocol in a pragmatic and flexible way, and take into account the real concerns that have been raised in Northern Ireland?

“I think if both sides work on that basis, there is a landing zone that can be agreed over the next six or eight weeks.

“From the perspective of the Irish Government, we will work to try to help this process.”

Mr Coveney said he did not expect the UK government to follow through on its threat to trigger Article 16.

He added: “I don’t expect the UK side to take something like the use of Article 16 off the table until there is an agreement. It’s just the nature of negotiations

“But I have to say that I think the consequences of triggering Article 16, in a way that sets aside big pieces of the protocol, would be extremely damaging to the relationships that we are now trying to build to resolve these issues through the negotiation and good politics.

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But Mr Coveney said these issues could not distract from the task of resolving the dispute over the Protocol.

“Who knows what will happen in British politics in the coming weeks,” he said.

“But my goal and that of our staff is to solve problems that have existed for too long.

“And to allow Northern Ireland to emerge with certainty from this ongoing debate around the implementation of the Protocol which has caused such polarization of opinion and tension in Northern Ireland.

“I think that’s why Liz Truss is here. I think it is a good thing that Brexit issues and Protocol issues are back in the Foreign Office in London, rather than a separate unit, headed by Lord Frost.

“There are big issues right now that Britain and the EU should be working on together and I think Liz Truss sees that.”