FORMER Irish premier Bertie Ahern has said he believes issues over the Northern Ireland Protocol can be resolved ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ahern said he was hopeful the anniversary of the agreement will be able to be celebrated in April with a deal on the outstanding protocol issues having been met.

Talks between the UK and EU to resolve the impasse over the contentious Brexit trading arrangements are continuing, with both sides insisting a deal is possible.

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“The technical issues on the protocol, I believe, can be sorted out,” Ahern told BBC One’s Sunday Politics Northern Ireland programme.

“I do understand that unionists and loyalists have concerns about the constitutional position.

"They do have concerns that have to be worked out and we have to take account of their views and try and find solutions to alleviate the concerns and fears. I think that’s very important.”

The National: Ahern was one of the signatories of the Good Friday AgreementAhern was one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement

The former Fianna Fail leader said “a lot of progress” has been made on the protocol issues.

“Hopefully over the early weeks of next year that can be dealt with,” Ahern added.

“The concern about the constitutional issues … we have to work through with loyalists and unionists, and that hopefully that can happen too.

“So, I’m hopeful that when we get to April, we will be able to genuinely celebrate it and not in the way it is at present.”

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The devolved government at Stormont has been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew its first minister from the ministerial executive in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP has insisted it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

The region’s largest unionist party has blocked the formation of a new administration following May’s Assembly election and prevented the Assembly meeting to conduct legislative business as part of its protest over the protocol.

In the May 2021 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Sinn Fein became the largest party and leader Michelle O'Neill should have been appointed to the role of First Minister, with the Deputy FM filled by a DUP politician.

However, the DUP refused to engage with Sinn Fein following the election, leaving O'Neill the FM designate and the deputy post unfilled.

Following the election, Dominic Raab played down the prospect of a referendum on the reunification of Ireland, insisting there was still a Unionist majority despite Sinn Fein's record result. 

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The DUP claims the protocol has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Great Britain.

We also told how the UK Government will not delay its controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill but allow the legislation to progress at a normal pace amid negotiations with the EU.

Following reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had put the Bill "on ice", Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told the House of Commons that the government would not look to delay or accelerate the legislation.