A breakthrough in talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol this week may be just enough to pave the way for a visit by President Biden to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April. 

The European Union and the UK made a breakthrough in reducing checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, RTÉ reported on Monday.

There would be red and green lanes at Northern Irish ports to differentiate between goods staying in the region and those moving south into the Republic and so into the EU’s single market. 

Goods from Great Britain destined to stay in Northern Ireland would go through a green lane with lighter checks, although the precise nature of customs paperwork, and food and animal health checks remains unclear. 

The latest development raises hopes of a broader agreement on the Protocol, a post-Brexit deal to ensure a soft trade border on the island of Ireland. But a senior source cautioned that “nothing has happened” on other difficult issues, including the role of the European Court of Justice which still has to be resolved. 

However, with last year’s hostilities on both sides now rapidly diminishing, there is hope there will be sufficient breakthrough on the tougher issues to lead to a resumption of a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has refused to participate in power-sharing for the past year, last weekend indicated a softening in its attitude following a meeting on Friday between its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Tanaiste Micheál Martin.  

Donaldson hinted that his party was prepared to observe EU laws on trade as part of the Brexit arrangements. He described his talks with Martin as “useful and constructive.” 

Sir Jeffrey - "Protocol must be replaced with arrangements that unionists can support" https://t.co/230Dh2lk01 via @duponline @J_Donaldson_MP @little_pengelly @gordonlyons1

— DUP (@duponline) February 3, 2023

On Monday, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who is leading the EU talks with the British said, “We re-established trust in the relationship with the U.K...the greater the safeguards we get, the more flexibility the EU can offer.” 

Šefčovič said that European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen had a trusting relationship with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. There was also a trusting relationship between him and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris

Šefčovič added, "We agree that joint solutions are needed to respond to the real-life concerns of all communities in Northern Ireland. So, all in all, it’s not an easy exercise, but it is certainly a necessary one, and the commission will spare no efforts to agree a joint way forward.” 

A Downing Street spokesman said, “There is still significant work to be done and there will be further talks this week across all areas.” 

*This column first appeared in the February 8 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.