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Richard Neal’s ‘disgraceful’ NI Protocol comments show ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of Belfast Agreement, says DUP Minister Gordon Lyons

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Gordon Lyons

Gordon Lyons

Gordon Lyons

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has said that US Congressman Richard Neal has a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the Belfast Agreement and branded his recent use of the terms ‘planter’ and ‘gael’ as “disgraceful”.

Mr Neal is due to meet party leaders at Stormont today (Thursday).

On Tuesday, the US congressman said the dispute over Northern Ireland's Brexit deal appears to be a "manufactured issue" and that trade problems around it "could be ironed out quickly".

He was speaking to reporters alongside Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney after a reception in Dublin.

Minister Lyons, speaking on Thursday’s BBC Good Morning Ulster programme, said that he wants to raise a number of issues with Mr Neal during the meeting today.

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“I want to raise questions about his past comments on support for the IRA and the real impact that has on victims, but ultimately what I want him to understand is the problems that the protocol is causing right now,” he said.

The DUP MLA said that comments made about the Protocol issues being manufactured were “disgraceful”.

“It either means he is downplaying the impact it is having or he just doesn’t understand the impact that it is having,” he said.

“He [Mr Neal] made very disparaging comments about those that voted in the election, but failed to take into consideration the mandate myself and my colleagues received just three weeks ago.

“He needs to understand it is a problem that needs sorting out,” he added.

“Rather than protecting the Good Friday agreement and its successor agreements it actually does damage to that too.

“He has a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Belfast Agreement is about.”

On a visit to Derry with an eight-strong delegation on Wednesday, Mr Neal defended his use of the term ‘planter’ after a negative reaction from unionist politicians.

Mr Neal said: “I was using the historic reference about the establishment of the plantation, that was the point that I made.

“I also referenced the historical term of the Gael, the Gael and the planter, because those are entirely accurate historic references.”

Minister Lyons said that, while these comments are “unsurprising”, he claimed that Mr Neal “doesn’t have a great grasp of how you conduct yourself when you are here.”

“I don’t think he’s ever understood that there’s a delicate balance here in Northern Ireland and that if progress is to be made you need to have consent and understanding of communities,” he said.

“The context in which he used it was incorrect.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson previously called the visit by US Congressman “terrible”.

“Since Rep Neal set foot on these shores, he has once again demonstrated a one-sided approach to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“He has exposed either an incredible lack of understanding or a dangerous willingness to misrepresent reality.”

Sir Jeffrey said his party had written to the Ways and Means Committee to insist that, contrary to Mr Neal’s claims, there was “nothing ‘manufactured’ about protocol problems”.


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