A former Irish leader has been urged to apologise after he said loyalists had “no clue” about the UK-EU Northern Ireland Brexit deal.
Ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern claimed that people in “east Belfast and the ghettos and the areas where you are likely to get trouble” criticised the protocol without knowing how it worked.
Mr Ahern, who led the Republic’s government from 1997 to 2008, was key in the Good Friday Agreement peace process.
Speaking at the Brexit Institute of Dublin City University on Thursday he said some loyalists saw the agreement as the “Dublin government taking over”.
But East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said the comments were “demeaning and degrading” to his constituents.
Mr Robinson, from the Democratic Unionist Party, opposes the protocol and wants the UK government to suspend it.
The DUP has in turn being accused of whipping up anger against the protocol – which enjoys majority support from the Northern Irish public, according to most polls.
“To associate east Belfast with a ghetto and suggest loyalists are not able to understand the protocol is demeaning and degrading,” the DUP MP said.
“People in my constituency who can’t get their Amazon parcels from another part of the United Kingdom well understand the impact of the protocol.
“Rather than belittling those who oppose the protocol, Bertie Ahern should seek to understand why not a single elected unionist in Northern Ireland supports the protocol.”
UK news in pictures
Show all 50
The protocol was introduced to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
Because Britain as a whole is leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, trade checks would have been required over the Irish border if no solution was found.
The protocol effectively keeps NI in the single market and customs union, but as a result this means some extra controls are added to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Though the plan was negotiated by the UK government, the same politicians who came up with it – David Frost and Boris Johnson – are now trying to renegotiate it.
The pair are threatening to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, effectively suspending it, if they do not get their way. The EU has come forward with some proposals to loosen the controls, reducing paperwork and spot checks – though the UK says this is not enough.