Northern Ireland: Bus seen being firebombed in Belfast
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João Vale de Almeida said the Protocol was here to stay and that it was up to politicians to make it work. Despite problems in trade across the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland, the EU representative said the Protocol was the “solution”.
There have been violent attacks on police over the past week with the implications of the Brexit deal partially blamed for the flare-up.
In the latest scenes, which took place in west Belfast on Wednesday, a bus was hijacked and set alight, petrol bombs, masonry and fireworks were thrown at officers and a peace wall gate was lit up in flames.
Police quelled crowds of 600 people on either side of the peace line and deployed six AEPs, a type of plastic bullet, as well as arresting two men, aged 18 and 28, on suspicion of riotous behaviour.
However, Mr Vale de Almeida has rejected Unionist demands that the Protocol be scrapped, accusing Brexiteers of having no alternatives to the measure.
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“The protocol is the solution for the problems created by Brexit in Northern Ireland and that’s where I believe we should focus,” he told The Guardian.
He said the EU was “fully committed in a constructive way to find solutions for those problems” but a fix must found “within the limits of the protocol that we have agreed not long ago”.
The ambassador added: “I can guarantee that from listening to those who negotiated – and Michel Barnier and David Frost were among them – I can tell you that they turned every stone to try to find alternatives to this protocol.
“No one came with a better idea – even those who attack the protocol today, who would like to see it scrapped, have no alternative to the protocol.
“So that what should be our focus.
“Our focus should be to implement the protocol.”
Mr Vale de Almeida said “implementing the protocol, implementing it fully; implementing it well” was the way to fix the problems currently being faced.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney today also said the Protocol could not be replaced.
However, he admitted more needed to be done to listen to Unionist concerns.
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He told broadcaster RTE: “There are a number of things inflaming division and resulting in real polarisation, clearly the protocol that is linked to Brexit is part of that.
“I’m more than aware of that, which is why, for many weeks now, I and others in the Irish government have speaking to the EU Commission to look at ways in which we can use the flexibilities built into the protocol, recognising frustrations that have been exposed.”
He added: “This is a time of real tension in Northern Ireland, unfortunately, that political leaders and community leaders need to respond to, like they have done in the past, to defuse tensions and come together rather than have a go at each other.”
Emergency talks called by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis are taking place today.
Mr Lewis will meet with First Minister Arlene Foster, from the DUP, and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, from Sinn Fein, to urge all communities to work together to end the violence.
He has said the determination to move on from the Troubles could not be “crushed by a small minority”.
While both Sinn Fein and the DUP have condemned the violence, the latter are among those demanding the Protocol be scrapped.
They have launched legal action against the measure, accusing it of undermining the Good Friday Agreement.
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