Jim Allister: DUP and UUP meeting US Congressman Richard Neal ‘a waste of time’

TUV leader Jim Allister has said meeting the US Congressional delegation in Belfast today is a waste of time.

By Henry McDonald
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2022, 7:42 am

Mr Allister urged the DUP and UUP to refuse to meet the American politicians led by Congressman Richard Neal whose comments on the NI Protocol and unionists continue to cause controversy.

He said: “If there was any doubt over Congressman Neal’s position on Northern Ireland before his visit to the Republic and to this part of the UK his pronouncements in recent days have removed them.

“What is the point in engaging with someone who dismisses unionists as planters – implying that they have no right to be in a country they and their families have lived in for hundreds of years, many more one might add than Irish-Americans have been in North America?”

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Jim Allister accused Richard Neal of ‘spinning fairy stories’ and of not acknowledging the threat of republican terrorism on the border

The TUV leader continued: “What is the point in engaging with someone who has already dismissed concerns about the protocol as manufactured? What is the point in meeting someone who on Tuesday was spinning fairy stories about soldiers returning to the border while never acknowledging the threat of republican terrorism which necessitated them being there 30 years ago?”

Referring to Mr Neal’s attendance at a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the 1981 hunger strikers and his admiration for Bobby Sands, Mr Allister said: “What is the point in seeking to explain a unionist position to someone who has openly celebrated IRA hunger striker and would-be furniture shop bomber Bobby Sands?

“Frankly, any engagement with Congressman Neal is a waste of time. The DUP and UUP would send a stronger message by simply refusing to meet with him. At the very least they should make an apology for his insulting comments about planters a precondition of any engagement.”

Mr Neal, who is chair of the ‘Ways and Means Committee’ on Capitol Hill, referred to “planter and Gael” during an interview with RTE television news on Tuesday evening, a description many unionists find offensive and sectarian.

Richard Neal (centre) with Mayor of Derry City and Strabane Graham Warke (right), and Derry city centre manager Jim Roddy, walking across the Peace Bridge in Londonderry yesterday

His reference to “planter” followed claims earlier that the controversy over the protocol had been “manufactured” which prompted protests from unionist politicians.

The Massachusetts member of the US House of Representatives has also been a key ally of Gerry Adams in Washington DC and once described the former Sinn Fein president as a “lifelong friend”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson defended the DUP’s decision to meet the US delegation stating that he is a “firm believer in challenging those who have adopted a Sinn Fein narrative”.

“I have challenged Congressman Neal and others before and I will continue to do so,” the DUP leader added.

Despite Mr Neal’s comments this week Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie confirmed that he and his party will meet him and the other eight Congress members at Stormont this morning.

Mr Beattie said: “We will meet Congressman Richard Neal and his delegation on Thursday and I hope that they will be open to listening and reflecting so that we can make progress for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

“When he returns to the United States he needs to be informed of the full picture, reflective of all views.

“It’s time for constructive politics to deliver solutions and that starts with language conducive to creating good relations.”

The UUP leader acknowledged that Congressman Neal’s remarks so far this week “make the road ahead much harder”.

He continued: “He has got it completely wrong and rather than charging around like a bull in a china shop, he needs to stop, pause, listen and reflect.

“The issues around the protocol are in no way manufactured, indeed they have been known about and discussed at every level since we raised them in October 2019.

“For Richard Neal to suggest they are, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the damage which the protocol is doing and that he is somewhat removed from the reality of the situation.”

On Congressman Neal’s “planter” remark, Mr Beattie said: “His comments which refer to people as ‘planters’ are derogatory to many Unionists. His thinking and terminology are of a time past.”

He added: “It’s time those with influence in the US, Irish Government and EU called on him to temper his ill judged and unhelpful comments.”