Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has strongly ruled out any compromise on the status of the European Court of Justice in the negotiations between the EU and the UK on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Coveney said that the EU would not concede on this issue. “It is a black and white issue. Basically what the EU is saying is that the European Court of Justice has got to be the final arbiter on EU law and regulations .
“I think that is self evident. Elements of the (Northern Ireland) protocol rely on the implementation of EU law. I do not see how the EU can outsource the arbitration on EU rules and regulation to a court outside of the EU.
“I just don’t think that’s a realistic proposition. I think many understand that on the British side as well.”
Notwithstanding that, Mr Coveney gave a relatively positive assessment on next week's critical talks between both sides, led by Britain's Brexit minister David Frost and EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
“We need to give them a fair wind if we can give the best possible chance of agreement,” Mr Coveney told The Week in Politics on RTÉ television.
“I think both are serious in terms of their engagement now with each other, to try and find a way forward on practical things that can reduce the impact of the protocol on the ground,” he said.
He said the package advanced by the EU several weeks ago provided a strong basis for the talks.
“Now is the time to try to give space to the negotiations,” he said.
Referring to what has been a difficult year in terms of progress on the issue, Mr Coveney accepted that a lot of what has happened has not been good in terms of building trust between the two sides.
“Rather than focus on who is at fault there, I think we should certainly be giving both Lord Frost and his team, and vice president Sefcovic, the time and space to really get into the details of the negotiations,” he said.
“They are happening next week in London. We all want to close this chapter, if we can, for the sake of Northern Ireland.
He said the protocol and Brexit had had a polarising impact on society, politics and business in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile Lord Frost has warned the UK will have to safeguard its position “in other ways” if it is not able to reach an agreement with the EU.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Lord Frost said: “The current problems with the protocol go to the heart of our territorial integrity, of what it means to be one country and one market. They will not just disappear.
“I still hope the EU can show the ambition needed to fix the problem by agreement. If they can’t, of course we will have to safeguard our position in other ways.”
Separately, Mr Sefcovic said the EU was doing “everything possible” to avoid the triggering of Article 16.
He told BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show: “We had a change of tone in the discussions over the last week, which I really appreciate.
“Also our discussion of these practical issues like for example medicines was more constructive than before. So it’s a decision of the UK government.
“We are doing everything possible to avoid it because of course, it will have serious consequences, first and foremost for the people in Northern Ireland but also for the EU/UK relations, and therefore I want to stay on this positive term.” – Additional reporting: PA