Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be reached within six to eight weeks.

His comments follow the first meeting between Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, held at her official residence at Chevening in Kent.

Ms Truss said there is a "deal to be done" with the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol, adding that they had agreed to hold further talks on 24 January.

Speaking to RTÉ's News at One, Mr Coveney said: "There is a landing zone that can be agreed over the next six or eight weeks and certainly from an Irish Government perspective we will be working to try to assist that process."

He said that the meeting between Ms Truss and Mr Šefčovič was about "setting the personal relationship in a better place than we've seen for a while and both sides now have agreed to ensure that their technical teams get involved in intensive negotiations next week."

Mr Coveney said that there is momentum now to resolve the problem.

"I think there is a real determination to try to bring the outstanding issues that relate to the protocol and its implementation to a close over the next number of weeks and months," he said.


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He added that elections in the North are "often polarising enough affairs" and everybody is conscious of their responsibility in terms of bringing stability and certainty to Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol beforehand.

"I think in people's minds, really, we would like to have, if possible, these issues resolved by the end of February and so that the elections in Northern Ireland can move ahead without being dominated by the protocol issues right away to polling day," he said.

Liz Truss hosted her first meeting with Maroš Šefčovič, which was held at her official residence at Chevening

However Ms Truss refused to rule out the possibility the UK could invoke Article 16 - suspending part of the arrangements in the protocol - if they could not agree a way forward.

"We have had constructive talks with the EU. We are now going to going into intensive negotiations to work towards a negotiated solution to sort out these very real issues for the people of Northern Ireland," she said.

"I think there is a deal to be done. I do want to make progress. Clearly if we don't make sufficient progress we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland."

Ms Truss assumed responsibility for the negotiations with the EU following the resignation of Brexit minister David Frost last month.

The UK government is seeking substantial changes to the protocol - which forms part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - arguing that it is hampering the free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and damaging community relations.

In a joint statement, Ms Truss and Mr Šefčovič said: "The meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere. They agreed that officials would meet next week in intensified talks and that the principals would meet again on January 24.

"We share a desire for a positive relationship between the EU and the UK underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy."