Mr Martin said it was “good to hear” some of the positives coming out of the Northern Ireland protocol while the Executive was still unable to form over continued disagreements. He said there were obvious issues “over consumer-facing goods”, but the “big takeaway” from the meeting was that many businesses have “managed to navigate and deal with the protocol”.
Mr Martin said: “We had a very interesting meeting with the Brexit and Business Working group.
“It was good to hear, actually, during that meeting of the many beneficial impacts of the Northern Ireland protocol on many sectors of the Northern Ireland economy.
“That group represents manufacturers, exporters, agriculture, small business, and quite a number of them were very clear in articulating how beneficial the protocol has been in terms of their particular sectors.
“Now there were others who clearly raised issues in terms of other aspects of the protocol, particularly over consumer-facing goods on the retail side.
“But the big takeaway was the majority of businesses at this stage have managed to navigate and deal with the protocol itself in their practical respect.
“What industries are very anxious about is, no matter who comes up with solutions, be they unilaterally produced solutions or whatever, they should pass the test of pragmatism and of the real world of industry and business.
“There were a lot of ideas in this group that clearly called for a more reflective and detailed examination [of the protocol] from all sides, particularly from the political domain in relation to new solutions going forwards.”
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But speaking after a meeting with the Irish Premier, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the protocol needed “fundamental change”, adding that “nothing short of that will suffice”.
He said: “We spelled it out very clearly to him the problems with the protocol, the harm it is doing to Northern Ireland and that we need a solution, we need decisive action to deal with these problems.
“We are not interested in a sticking plaster approach, or tinkering around the edges, it has to be fundamental change which respects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and nothing short of that will suffice.”
Concerning the British Government’s publication of revisions to the protocol, Sir Jeffrey added: “I want the institutions to operate as soon as possible but I am not going to telegram to the Government what I am going to do until we see what this legislation says, that is fundamentally important.
“I want the people of Northern Ireland to see what the Government is proposing to do, that is why publishing the legislation is important and once we see that legislation of course we will consider what our next step will be.”
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Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill meanwhile accused the DUP of “denying democracy” by refusing to enter government in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill said: “There are parties here that want to be in government together, there are parties that want to be in the executive but unfortunately the DUP, sponsored by the British Government, are holding back all of that progress and preventing us from being able to start to put money in people’s pockets.”
“I very much welcome the fact that the Taoiseach is here in Belfast this morning. I am glad of the opportunity to talk to him, as will all of the other parties have their opportunity.
“He has a very significant role in terms of being the co-guarantor of our peace agreement and therefore has a stewardship role to play.
“At a time where democracy is being denied, at a time where the DUP are continuing to prevent the facilitation of an Executive being formed, an executive that could start to deliver for the public, I think it is important that he is here to assert his role and to listen to all of the parties.”