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Unionists seethe at 'meddling Americans' as Richie Neal and Co. visit Derry

Democrat Richard Neal angered unionists with comments yesterday.

Updated May 25th 2022, 3:15 PM

THE DELEGATION OF US politicians on a fact-finding mission to Ireland are in Derry today after a day in Dublin yesterday that angered the DUP. 

The delegation – led by senior US Democrat Richard Neal – spent time in Brussels and London before travelling to Ireland at the weekend as part of a mission that examines post-Brexit trade relations and the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

In Dublin yesterday, Neal said the issue over the Northern Ireland Protocol seems to be “manufactured” and that it could be resolved “quickly”. 

The comments prompted anger from unionist politicians including DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson who accused him of “distorting the truth” and a “slavish adherence to Sinn Fein dogma”. 

An article attacking Neal penned by former DUP leader Arlene Foster published in today’s Daily Express newspaper was titled: “Meddling Americans are the real threat to peace in Northern Ireland”. 

UUP leader Doug Beattie tweeted: “Unbelievable – is this really helping the situation in any way.”

Neal is expected to meet with DUP representatives later having met with SDLP politicians in Derry earlier today today. 

Asked about his upcoming meeting with Donaldson, Neal said: “I have known him for a long period of time, I don’t want to trespass. I have had a good relationship with him over the years.”

On his visit to Derry, Neal was asked about the negative reaction from some unionists to his use of the word “planter” when addressing the Seanad yesterday.

Neal said he was using a historic reference in relation to the establishment of the plantation in the 17th Century.

“That was the point that I made,” he said. “I also referenced the historical term of the gael, the gael and the planter, because those are entirely accurate historic references.”

Asked if he accepted that some people had been offended, he replied:

I was mayor of a big city. I’m not easily offended by the things I was called and things that have been said about me. 

brexit Source: PA

Neal also said that the issues with Protocol are for the UK and EU to resolve.

He described the issues with the Protocol as “significantly disproportionate” compared with issues dealt by the two communities in Northern Ireland previously.

“People here took up much more severe challenges … this is an issue for the European Union and for the UK government to sift and sort,” he said.

I think we want to be mindful of the fact that the difference of opinion that existed from Brussels and London was substantial, and the commission in the European Union, they suggested these problems were eminently solvable, and I think based on the conversations we had of good faith that is the case.

Neal said he was “optimistic” that a resolution to the Northern Ireland Protocol row could be found.

“I am easily optimistic, I’m over the moon with optimism,” he said.

During their visit, the congressional delegation walked across Derry’s Peace Bridge. They also walked the city’s historic walls and visited the popular mural dedicated to the hit TV show Derry Girls.

Neal revealed that he had watched some of the show about Derry children growing up during the Troubles, describing it as “extraordinary”.

“It made an impression,” he said.

‘Manufactured’ 

Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told reporters in Dublin yesterday that “it was up to London” to help find a solution on the Protocol, and that there was “vagueness” from the UK over what protocol issue had led it to table its own legislation.

“We began in Brussels with purpose, moved to London, so we quickly heard divergent views. But as always we’re going to meet with everybody who has an interest here,” he said.

But the Protocol dispute seems to me to be a manufactured issue. I have on this delegation people who are experts on trade, and they also would confirm that they think these issues on the trade front, if that’s really the dispute, could be ironed out quickly.

Liz Truss

brexit UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at McCulla Haulage in Lisburn. Source: PA Images

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also visiting Northern Ireland today and spoke to media while visiting a haulage company in Lisburn, some 16km outside Belfast.

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“I am in Northern Ireland to talk about our solution on customs, putting in place a red and green lane to make sure that we remove customs bureaucracy for those goods that are travelling from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, so we can restore the balance between the communities and restore the working of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

Truss claimed that the Uk government has no plans to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol, but instead “fix the issues”.

“What we have been clear about is the Protocol is causing political instability, so we haven’t seen the Northern Ireland Executive in operation since February,” Truss said.

What we need to do is to make sure that as well as protecting north-south trade, we are protecting east-west trade.

She added: “Everybody in Northern Ireland recognises our issue is with the protocol, we are not talking about scrapping the protocol, what we are talking about is fixing the issues so we can protect north-south trade whilst at the same time making east-west trade easier.”

Additional reporting from Rónán Duffy and Céimin Burke

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