The European Union and UK are making progress on key aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, with signs that an agreement on the medicines issue could be found soon, RTÉ News understands

However, Brussels has registered its concerns with the UK for its constant criticisms of the EU's approach to the protocol, which, diplomats say, are then echoed by unionist parties in Northern Ireland.

Despite the tensions around the protocol, which requires checks and controls on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, there is said to be "broad progress" in negotiations between European Commission and UK officials at technical level.

Both sides have identified over 25 areas of contention, including food, medicines, the movement of pets, plants, VAT on second hand cars, and imports on steel.

However, EU and UK officials are thought to remain far apart on the question of food safety and animal health when it comes to the movement of large, mixed consignments of food from GB depots to supermarkets and retailers in Northern Ireland.

On the medicines question, it is understood the European Commission is close to finding a solution to the problem of placing UK medicines - which have not been authorised by the European Medicines Agency - on the market in Northern Ireland, which is de facto in the single market.

Last night the DUP leader Edwin Poots accused the Irish Government of wanting to "starve" Northern Ireland of medicines, including cancer drugs, as well as food.

Under the protocol, it was envisaged that medicines produced in Britain would ultimately have to be licensed to an "authorised holder" that would be located in Northern Ireland or in an EU member state.

The authorised holder is normally responsible, under EU law, for the quality control and tracing of medicines that are licensed for use in the single market.

The EU and UK agreed a grace period in December meaning the new requirements will be on hold until the end of this year.

However, it is understood the Commission is now looking at the possibility of permanently allowing medicines produced in Britain to be licensed via authorised holders there, as opposed to Northern Ireland, so long as the drugs do not leave the North to be sold in the south.

Any such move would have to win the support of 27 member states.

The European Commission briefed member states last night that because nothing in the protocol altered the fact that the UK was responsible for public health in Northern Ireland, and that the NHS operated there, then a solution would be forthcoming.

"One of the arguments has been that, under the protocol, the UK government remains responsible for public health in Northern Ireland and in that context the UK remains responsible for ensuring that there is an adequate supply of medicines on the market," says an EU diplomat briefed on the meeting.

"So, therefore the Commission and EU have to take the responsibility that falls on the UK government into account. It's not clear what exactly they're going to propose, but it sounds like there could be a blanket acceptance of medicines whereby the authorisation holder would stay in the UK."

Despite the tensions over the protocol and the harder line taken by the DUP under its new leader, it is understood that work is continuing on a roadmap for its ultimate implementation.

There are expectations that a meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee, which implements the protocol, will meet at some point between 10 and 15 June in order to add political momentum to the process.

It is understood the UK has requested that the Joint Committee be held on a separate day to the inaugural meeting of the Joint Partnership Council, which will implement and oversee the free trade agreement concluded by both sides in December.

Diplomats say the EU has registered is unhappiness at the constant criticism of the EU's approach to the protocol which, they say, is then echoed by unionists in Northern Ireland.

One complaint is that the European Commission is genuinely trying to find flexibilities within the legal framework, while the UK has yet to complete infrastructure and database requirements which are designed to implement the protocol, according to one diplomat.