Mr Coveney said he wants an agreement on the issue agreed by the end of February to prevent the “polarising” issue from dominating the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, taking place in May. On Thursday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held her first meeting with her counterpart in Brussels Maros Sefcovic since taking over Brexit negotiations after Lord Frost’s resignation. The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol since October 2021.
But Mr Coveney described the new appointment as a “reset” in the relationship between the EU and the UK.
He added that the relationship is now “in a better place than we’ve seen for a while”.
Speaking before the meeting, Ms Truss said: “There is a deal to be done that protects peace in Northern Ireland, defends our Union, and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom and EU. But it will require a pragmatic approach from the EU.
“I will be putting forward practical, reasonable solutions starting from these fundamental principles, with a view to agreeing a plan for intensive negotiations.
“The EU has a clear responsibility to help fix the myriad problems caused by the Protocol and protects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. As fellow believers in liberty and democracy, we should be capable of reaching an agreement that delivers for Northern Ireland and allows us to unleash the full potential of our relationship”.
Today Mr Coveney said: “From my conversations with both sides, I think that process will be a very serious one.
“I think in people’s minds, really, we would like to have, if possible, these issues resolved by the end of February, so that the elections in Northern Ireland can move ahead without being dominated by the Protocol issues, right the way to polling day.
“Elections in the North are often polarising enough affairs without having the added complexity and tension around the Protocol and its implementation.
“And so the focus really on the EU side is how do we implement this Protocol in a way that is pragmatic and flexible, and takes on board the genuine concerns that have been raised in Northern Ireland?”
“I think if both sides work on that basis, there is a landing zone that can be agreed over the next six or eight weeks.
“As an Irish government perspective, we’ll be working to try to assist that process.”
The Foreign Minister added: “I don’t expect that the UK side will take something like the use of Article 16 off the table, until there’s an agreement. That’s just the nature of negotiations
“But I have to say, I think the consequences of the triggering of Article 16, in a way that sets aside large elements of the Protocol would be hugely damaging to the relationships that we’re now trying to build to solve these issues through negotiation and good politics.”