Northern Ireland

Irish politicians criticise 'deceitful' British Government social media video about the Protocol

Senator Erin McGreehan said that the video was adding tension amid “heightened” emotions before Stormont elections in May.

AN IRISH SENATOR has criticised a social media post by the British Government about the Northern Ireland Protocol as “deceitful”, while a TD said that it was a “Trumpian” move.

In a 30-second-long video viewed over half a million times, it is stated that the Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to protect the peace process and respect all communities in Northern Ireland, but “is doing the opposite”.

The clip, posted by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, claims that the Protocol “prevents” the free flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and that 78% of people in Northern Ireland have said that the Protocol could be improved.

Most goods can be sent between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but there is additional paperwork and costs associated with some goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland is still in the Single Market.

This has caused problems for pre-Brexit trade habits, and has lead to some shifts in how companies in Northern Ireland operate since Brexit came into effect in January 2021.

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan, who is from Co Louth, told The Journal that the video from the British Government was “deceitful”.

“The issue is that the British Government entered into the Protocol, they knew what it was, they signed up to an agreement.

“If a unionist party put that video out, I would say ‘That’s their view’ – I mightn’t understand it, but I accept it’. But this is the British government, which is working to try to amend as many parts of the Protocol as it possibly can.”

She said that the EU have been “honest brokers” and have taken every opportunity to understand Ireland, which she says cannot be said for the British Government.

The EU and the UK Government are currently engaged in negotiations to find solutions to the practical problems with how the Protocol works – despite the UK calling for the Protocol to be removed entirely. 

“[EU Commissioner] Maroš Šefčovič came to the border here in Co Louth, he met people who would be affected by the Protocol. He listened to them.”

Because it’s election time in Northern Ireland everything is heightened, there’s the potential for a non-unionist majority in the Assembly and that’s creating tension in itself.
The video adds to that tension.

She added that it was “quite bizarre” that an international agreement that was signed up to just over a year ago is now being re-negotiated.

Though acknowledging that there are issues with how the Protocol operates, McGreehan says that it’s mostly around the practical details of the trading arrangement, rather than the whole Protocol.

For an establishment, for a government, to put this out and tell people that the peace process is being damaged by the Protocol – that in itself is damaging the peace process. And it’s very worrying. It’s uncalled for.

“Imagine the Irish government putting out ads saying the peace process is at risk. We wouldn’t be putting out ads – we’d be going to the North and meeting with people. That’s leadership. If Boris Johnson was serious about the peace process, serious about their unionist friends, they should show leadership and go sit down and make this work.”

Fine Gael TD for Dublin Neale Richmond said: “This is a very disappointing tweet and a pivot from what has been an attempted change in tone towards agreed resolution.

One must question the wisdom and timing of such a move that can only be described as Trumpian.

When asked whether the timing of the tweet is a concern, particularly during huge lorry tailbacks in England, and ahead of Northern Ireland’s elections in May, Richmond said that he is concerned these are “distractions produced for a domestic audience”.

“I do fear that campaigns like this, especially from an organ of the state, are a very worrying development.”

The British Government’s new lead on negotiations with the EU over the Protocol is Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. She visited Northern Ireland on Thursday, and expressed determination to secure a deal on the Protocol that would win universal support in Northern Ireland.

The visit came amid continued warnings from the DUP that it will walk away from the devolved administration at Stormont if major changes to how trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain works are not secured rapidly.

Ireland and the EU have maintained that the Protocol will not be removed, and repeatedly stress that it was signed up to and implemented by the British Government, which has invested significant funds to implement Brexit trading arrangements.

Truss said this week: “I want to make significant progress by February. That’s important but it’s important that we secure the support of all of the communities in Northern Ireland, including the unionist community.”

Meanwhile, in the English coastal town of Dover, dramatically long queues of lorries have been seen parked along a motorway, stretching back for miles. More Brexit rules came into force from the beginning of the year, causing problems for smaller businesses in particular and resulting in long delays as trucks try to bring goods into the EU.

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