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NI not facing crisis insists congressman, as DUP brand visit ‘undiplomatic’

Richard Neal reminded of US history and own ancestry: Donaldson

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Talks: US Congressman Richard Neal (third from right) meets with Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Talks: US Congressman Richard Neal (third from right) meets with Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Talks: US Congressman Richard Neal (third from right) meets with Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

A DUP MLA has told Congressman Richard Neal — whose Irish grandparents emigrated to the US — that “he himself is a planter”.

Upper Bann representative Jonathan Buckley made the comment to the chair of Congress’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, who met local political parties at Stormont on Thursday.

Mr Neal’s visit has been embroiled in controversy for his comments on the Northern Ireland Protocol and for using the word ‘planter’ in relation to unionist heritage and ancestry.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his colleague, Mr Buckley, had challenged the US politician over the term. He said he had then reminded Mr Neal of “a few facts of American history”.

The DUP leader said: “I reminded him of an event in 1773 when a group of American patriots pushed tea chests into Boston harbour.

“Their mantra was ‘no taxation without representation’ and they fought a revolutionary war based on that principle.

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“I reminded Congressman Neal that this too is our mantra, that today Northern Ireland is subjected to laws and taxes into which it has no say.

“Not a single member elected to this Assembly can influence many of the laws that now oversee how we conduct trade in our country because they are imposed by the EU and there is no democratic accountability to this institution.”

Sir Jeffrey said Mr Neal’s had been “the most undiplomatic visit I have ever seen to these shores. The language, if I may be diplomatic myself, has been unhelpful and displays an alarming ignorance of the concerns of unionism”.

The US congressman said his meeting with the DUP went “very well”. He acknowledged unionist “apprehension” over the protocol as “legitimate”. He said he would like to see talks making headway. “We want to see them smoothed over and repaired,” he added.

But Mr Neal stressed that Northern Ireland wasn’t facing a crisis. Standing in Parliament Buildings, he said: “I have been in this hall many times through far more grim moments than the one we’re currently witnessing.

“I think the role that we’ve (the US) offered, the dimension that we brought to bear, is overwhelmingly over all of these years been very helpful.”

He said it was up to President Biden to decided if a special White House envoy to Northern Ireland would be appointed.

Mr Neal warned that a US/UK trade deal was “very desirable” but he made clear that would be risked if London pressed ahead with unilaterally scrapping parts of the protocol.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described his meeting with Mr Neal as a “very useful engagement” and said he had urged him to help overcome protocol issues. “We are all extremely frustrated by the approach the UK Government is taking, their intransigence around issues and the way they are digging an even deeper hole,” he added.

Speaking after his meeting, UUP leader Doug Beattie said Mr Neal now understood unionist concerns about the protocol.

Colum Eastwood described his meeting with Mr Neal as productive. The SDLP leader said: “The US remains a firm ally to the people of Ireland, the peace process and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. We are fortunate that some of the most high-ranking political leaders in the world take an active and engaged interest in the stability of our institutions.”


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