The Tánaiste has said he would not object to grace periods delaying checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland being extended beyond the end of this month as part of efforts to resolve the dispute over the Protocol.

The Protocol, part of the Brexit divorce deal agreed by the UK and Brussels, effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods.

The Protocol was put in place to ensure there would be no hard border with Ireland, but it has instead effectively placed a trade barrier in the Irish Sea.

It is deeply unpopular with unionists, who have insisted it should be removed.

Speaking after two days of meetings with political and business leaders in Northern Ireland, Leo Varadkar said he did not believe a delay on checks would solve the problem.

He had a working breakfast with DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson in Belfast this morning before travelling to InterTrade Ireland in Newry.

"I certainly wouldn't have any objection to the grace periods being extended," Mr Varadkar said.

"But the difficulty with that of course is it doesn't solve the underlying issues, or the underlying difficulties. It just puts things off.

"Certainly my impression from Jeffrey Donaldson this morning is that that wouldn't be an acceptable outcome for them anyway, whatever about the other parties, so it would be preferable I think to come to an agreement.

"Obviously, if more time is needed to find time to make that agreement or ratify any agreements that might happen, I think that that would be reasonable to do, so we don't object to that, but it's not the solution," he added.


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Mr Donaldson told the Tánaiste the Irish government needs to recognise the damage that the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing to political stability in Northern Ireland.

The Tánaiste said the DUP leader "didn't mince his words" about his party's assessment of the difficulties created by the controversial post-Brexit agreement.

Mr Donaldson said: "I made absolutely clear that the Protocol is harming our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.

"It has undermined that relationship, it has contravened the Belfast Agreement, it has contravened the Act of Union, it is damaging to political progress in Northern Ireland.

"It has the capacity to so undermine the political progress here that it drags us backwards."