Northern Ireland First Minister brands Simon Coveney 'tone deaf to unionist concerns' as tense NI Protocol talks begin
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Northern Ireland First Minister brands Simon Coveney 'tone deaf to unionist concerns' as tense NI Protocol talks begin

FIRST MINISTER ARLENE FOSTER has accused Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister of being "tone deaf" to unionist concerns as discussions about post-Brexit checks in Northern Ireland kick into gear

Something of a war of words has now begun over the Northern Ireland Protocol, with unionist leaders calling for it to be scrapped, and the Irish government saying it needs to stay.

Mrs Foster said that the Protocol risked Northern Ireland's "political and economic links" to the UK and says she wants it replaced.

However, speaking to the BBC, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: "We need to be truthful with everybody - the Protocol is not going to be scrapped.

"There is not going to be a dramatic change."

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He added that ministers in Ireland wanted to be helpful and flexible wherever possible, but stressed that the current issues have been caused by the UK's Brexit negotiating stance, and Ireland wouldn't be bearing the brunt of the consequences.

Hitting back, Foster said Coveney was "tone deaf to the concerns of unionism".

"Just carry on regardless of the fact that there is not one unionist politician in Northern Ireland that supports the Protocol, but what about it, we will just continue on," she told the BBC.

"These are not teething problems. People need to get their heads out of the sand and get their fingers out of their ears and actually listen to what people in Northern Ireland are having to deal with."

The UK and the EU are currently locked in talks to discuss potential solutions to the way the Protocol has been implemented.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the bloc this week that he was considering triggering article 16, which would prevent barriers from being put up in the Irish Sea, after the EU briefly triggered the article themselves in an attempt to close the Irish border to exports of coronavirus vaccines from the Republic.

The move was quickly rescinded however after a fierce backlash.

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