By Cate McCurry and James Ward, PA
Jeffrey Donaldson has welcomed the “change in tone” from the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP leader made the comment following a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Belfast on Friday.
They discussed the latest proposals by the bloc to solve the impasse over the protocol.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic announced on Thursday that the EU will table “very far-reaching” proposals within the next fortnight.
Mr Donaldson said: “I welcome the change in tone, I welcome the change in the language being used. People are now solution-focused.
“They’re now talking about negotiations. All of these things were off the table, even three months ago.
“I think that our actions have caused a sharper focus on the need to find a solution that removes the Irish Sea border and restores Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.”
He said there are continuing concerns around the protocol and there is a need to remove the Irish Sea border so businesses “can resume its normal trading relationship”.
Speaking about his meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr Donaldson said they discussed the potential for an increase in co-operation between political leaders on both sides of the border.
“We talked about North-South relations in the current context, and then the potential I think to, if we can resolve the issues around the protocol and see that Irish Sea border removed, then the potential to look at how we can increase co-operation on areas that are of mutual benefit to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” he added.
Sinn Féin meeting
Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also met with Mr Martin to discuss the EU’s olive branch on Brexit.
Ms O’Neill said the cross-Border meeting came at “a very important time”.
She added: “The EU have indicated that they’re going to lay some papers in terms of finding solutions.
“I think what the people here want, what the business community here want, what the farmers here want, is certainty and stability.
“I believe that the way to do that is with the EU side and the British government working through the outstanding issues and finding solutions.
“That’s very much what I want to speak to the Taoiseach about, alongside obviously, the issue of the current political situation here in the north, with the DUP threatening to pull down the Assembly and the Executive while the rest of us are trying to get on with dealing with the issues that are important and weighing heavy on people’s minds.”
She said shared issues include the recovery from Covid.
Ms O’Neill also criticised the DUP’s non-engagement in the North South Ministerial Council.
“Firstly, it’s wrong for the DUP not to attend north-south council meetings,” she said.
“They can’t cherry-pick which parts of our peace agreement that they want to work.
“Deirdre Hargey, the minister who was supposed to have a North-South Ministerial Council meeting last week, is now seeking legal advice and will take a legal challenge for breach of the ministerial code.
“I think that this meeting today is very important, it’s an ongoing engagement with the Taoiseach around issues of importance, particularly given the last number of years the implications of Brexit, trying to find solutions and trying to find a way forward.
“I think it’s timely that we have these discussions with them.”