Coveney’s London talks on North riots expected to go ahead this week

Ministerial meetings are on schedule despite mourning protocols for Prince Philip

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney:  he is expected  to  hold meetings with UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Northern secretary Brandon Lewis on Thursday.  File photograph: Damien Storan

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: he is expected to hold meetings with UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Northern secretary Brandon Lewis on Thursday. File photograph: Damien Storan

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Meetings in London later this week between Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and British ministers over the upsurge of violence in Northern Ireland are expected to proceed despite mourning protocols for the late Prince Philip.

It is understood Mr Coveney will hold meetings with foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Northern secretary Brandon Lewis on Thursday.

They will discuss rioting in loyalist and interface areas over recent weeks which are said to have stemmed from unionist and loyalist opposition to the Brexit-related protocol.

The other key factor, again cited by unionist politicians over the weekend, was the decision not to prosecute anybody over Covid-19 rule breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Mr Coveney may also meet cabinet office minister David Frostwho covers Europe, Brexit and trade. Although arrangements for that discussion have yet to be finalised, said sources.

It comes after intensive contacts between Dublin and London took place over the weekend amid warnings of violence and rioting, although flashpoints in Belfast were quieter.

The meetings are expected to discuss the ongoing operation of Brexit, particularly the workings of the contentious protocol which unionists contend has split the UK by creating a border in the Irish Sea.

Contact

European Union and UK officials have been meeting about the implementation of the protocol in technical discussions described as constructive by both sides.

Sources cautioned that a breakthrough on the issue was not in sight, but described the ongoing contact as a sign of improvement in relations after a rocky first few months for new arrangements.

The leads on the issue, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and British counterpart Lord Frost, may meet in the coming fortnight in a format yet to be decided.

The EU has suggested several times that many of the most difficult issues would be resolved immediately if Britain agreed to a deal to synchronise food, animal and plant standards. But London has ruled this out as it would require maintaining alignment with EU norms.

The two sides are working through a document the British government sent to the commission on March 31st after the EU asked for a roadmap setting out when the protocol would be implemented fully.

The British side has asked for flexibility and for easing of restrictions on the movement of pets between Britain and Northern Ireland. The commission has said it is open to pragmatic solutions, but that Britain must first implement fully what has been agreed.

“Our communication channels remain open. Technical-level discussions are continuing between the EU and the UK on the implementation of the protocol,” said a commission spokesman. “Depending on the progress made at technical level, a political-level meeting may be held soon.”

Conversation

Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke to British prime minister Boris Johnson and to Northern Ireland leaders last week about violence in the North. The Government on Monday again refused to say if it had sought an emergency summit between leaders on the issue. The Observer reported over the weekend that Mr Johnson had turned down a request from the Irish Government to hold a summit.

At a European level, EU and British negotiators have reported constructive engagement but that differences remain around issues that triggered the violence.

“The discussions have been constructive but there are still significant differences that need to be resolved,” said a British government spokesman on Monday. Lord Frost discussed the British government’s difficulties around the protocol with Mr Sefcoviç on Friday.

Over the weekend Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP said that for unionists their “sense of Britishness” was being “stripped away” by the protocol, which treats the North differently than other parts of the UK after Brexit.

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