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Richard Neal: Congressman’s visit branded as ‘outrageous’ by Jeffrey Donaldson

Doug Beattie have criticised the US delegation for their one-sided approach to NI

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Congressman Richard Neal (centre) with mayor of Derry City and Strabane Graham Warke (right), and Derry city centre manager Jim Roddy on the Peace Bridge

Congressman Richard Neal (centre) with mayor of Derry City and Strabane Graham Warke (right), and Derry city centre manager Jim Roddy on the Peace Bridge

PA

Congressman Richard Neal (centre) with mayor of Derry City and Strabane Graham Warke (right), and Derry city centre manager Jim Roddy on the Peace Bridge

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has branded US Congressman Richard Neal’s visit to Northern Ireland as “terrible” and his comments about the protocol as “outrageous”.

UUP leader Doug Beattie was also heavily critical of remarks by the chairman of Washington’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, while  Jim Allister said there was no point in unionists engaging with him.

Mr Neal is due to meet party leaders at Stormont on Thursday. On a visit to Derry with an eight-strong delegation on Wednesday, he defended his use of the term ‘planter’ after a negative reaction from unionist politicians.

The city’s DUP Mayor, Graham Warke, told the US visitors they were very welcome but asked if they “could be careful with their words”.

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.”

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He stood by his previous remarks about protocol problems, insisting they were “significantly disproportionate” compared to issues Northern Ireland had faced in the past.

“The people here took up much more severe challenges,” he said.

“We believe that based on the conversations that we had in Brussels, in London, this is an issue for the European Union and for the UK Government to sift and sort.”

Mr Neal said he was looking forward to meeting Sir Jeffrey whom he had known a long time. “I have had a good relationship with him over the years,” he added.

However, the DUP leader said: “This has been a terrible Congressional visit. Since Rep Neal set foot on these shores, he has once again demonstrated a one-sided approach to Northern Ireland.

“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”.

He said: “This was an outrageous comment for such a senior US politician to make.

“Whether it is our pharmacies accessing medicines, our garden centres buying plants, farmers unable to move livestock, manufacturers unable to bring in parts, or our supermarkets seeing the price of frozen food forced up, the Irish Sea border is real and is having a costly impact on everyone in Northern Ireland.”

The DUP leader said the US administration had been a “force of good” in the past, but this visit had been “more of a hindrance than a help”.

He added: “Despite the one-sided approach of Rep Neal, we will be attending the meeting to put forward our view to his delegation.

“I am a firm believer in challenging those who have adopted a Sinn Fein narrative. I have challenged Congressman Neal and others before and I will continue to do so.”

Doug Beattie said: “Richard Neal has got it completely wrong and rather than charging around like a bull in a china shop, he needs to stop, pause, listen and reflect.

“The issues around the protocol are in no way manufactured, indeed they have been known about and discussed at every level since we raised them in October 2019.

“His comments which refer to people as ‘planters’ are derogatory to many unionists. His thinking and terminology are of a time past.

“We have friends in the US we need to engage with more and Congressman Neal’ s biased view of the past and present, are not representative of American diplomacy.”

TUV leader, Jim Allister, said: “What is the point in engaging with someone who dismisses unionists as planters — implying that they have no right to be in a country they and their families have lived in for hundreds of years, many more one might add than Irish-Americans have been in North America?

“What is the point in engaging with someone who has already dismissed unionist concerns about the Protocol as manufactured?

“What is the point in meeting someone who on Tuesday was spinning fairy stories about soldiers returning to the border while never acknowledging the threat of republican terrorism which necessitated them being there 30 years ago?

“What is the point in seeking to explain a Unionist position to someone who has openly celebrated IRA hunger striker and would be furniture shop bomber Bobby Sands?”

Mr Allister added: “Frankly, any engagement with Congressman Neal by unionists is a waste of time.

“The DUP and UUP would send a stronger message by simply refusing to meet with him. At the very least they should make an apology for his insulting comments about planters a precondition of any engagement.”


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