Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh has said that more bridges need to built between Irish and British politicians ahead of Brexit.

The Fine Gael TD said there are UK politicians who do not understand the implications of Brexit on the island of Ireland.

The Donegal TD also said he is prepared to represent the views of those in Northern Ireland who feel they have no voice in the Brexit debate because of the lack of government at Stormont.

Power-sharing at Stormont collapsed in January after the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in a row over a botched green energy scheme.

Attempts to restore the executive have so far failed amid disagreement between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party on a number of key issues.

Mr McHugh said many people in the region feel they do not have a voice on Brexit in the absence of the political institutions.

"I am happy to continue to give those people, Irish citizens among them, a voice alongside citizens of this State and voice those concerns in London, Brussels and wherever else we need to go to do that," he added.

Referring to the Northern Ireland peace process, Mr McHugh said he was concerned that there are UK politicians who "don't understand the possible implications [of Brexit] for Ireland, who've never visited the island and have never spoken to someone from a border community".

He said there is a new generation of younger politicians in the UK who need to understand "that the peace process was hard won and we cannot throw it away".

However, he added: "There are senior politicians in all the main parties in Britain who have had their own input into the peace we enjoy today.

"Politicians I worked alongside in the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly know the intricacies of the peace process; they know the geography of the border and they know the politics and decisions needed to maintain and protect the process."

Trade could be 'distorted' by customs changes

Meanwhile, a manufacturing lobby group has said that companies from England, Scotland and Wales could rush to Northern Ireland to establish bases to avoid customs tariffs post-Brexit.

The UK government has proposed smaller firms involved in localised cross-border trade with the Republic should be exempted from the responsibilities.

Manufacturing Northern Ireland said 99% of the businesses it represents were small or medium-sized but they had been given no idea how the suggested arrangements after March 2019 could work.

The group said: "Essentially it means that Northern Ireland firms would be within the Customs Union whilst also being outside of the Customs Union as part of the UK. Is that possible or acceptable?

"It could lead to a rush of Great Britain manufacturers wanting to come and set up in Northern Ireland to avoid customs requirements but equally, it could see Irish firms using Northern Ireland as a back-door to the UK market, so trade could be distorted."

The lobby group said large manufacturers in Northern Ireland, around 60 or so, accounted for half of all employment and turnover from the sector.

"They'll be subject of currently complex and costly red tape and delay being outside the Customs Union.

"Manufacturers constantly work to remove complexity and cost so this will be difficult for such strategically important employers and exporters.

"It is business who will be most impacted and who will be asked to make Brexit work. Efforts need to be stepped up to engage and get ideas about how these and other proposals are made workable.

"Given all this, it's difficult to understand how any guarantees can be provided about the absence of physical borders or customs checkpoints, regardless of any proposed exemptions, unless a comprehensive customs agreement and single market access is delivered."