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Dominic Raab visit a wasted opportunity

It is not clear why British government ministers feel the need to treat visits to Northern Ireland like some sort of clandestine operation where the overriding consideration seems to be getting in and out quickly while saying or doing as little as possible.

We are long past the time when such visits were, for obvious reasons, surrounded by tight security but there appears to be a certain mindset that still pertains in relation to this part of the world.

This week we saw secretary of state Karen Bradley dash off to catch a flight back to London after spending just 45 minutes talking to the parties, a performance that caused deep dismay to all but the DUP.

Hard on her heels yesterday was the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who at least managed to visit the border area within a shorter time span than his predecessor, David Davis.

Mr Davis was widely criticised for failing to travel to see for himself the source of the single most intractable problem in the Brexit negotiations and when he eventually did come it was an embarrassing shambles.

His unannounced trip to Co Armagh excluded the media and also required an apology to the local MP who was not informed of the visit.

Mr Raab also caused consternation when he visited Warrenpoint harbour yesterday.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard described the minister as acting like a 'thief in the night', for failing to engage with local elected representatives or the media, who were excluded from the event.

And while Mr Raab later met political representatives at Stormont, he was plainly reluctant to subject himself to wider scrutiny.

Such an approach is counter-productive. Such visits should be regarded as a perfect opportunity to talk to people, hear different viewpoints and answer questions posed on behalf of the public, who are worried about what the future may hold.

The fact that Mr Raab visited two ports - Warrenpoint and Larne - will give rise to speculation about the likely shape of a possible deal.

In a BBC interview, he did not definitively rule out the prospect of new regulatory checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, any suggestion of additional checks would be a problem for the DUP which reiterated its opposition to regulatory barriers during its meeting with Mr Raab yesterday.

Clearly, it was important for the Brexit secretary to visit Northern Ireland and see the border region.

It is a pity he did not spend more time listening to a range of views and discussing in greater depth the understandable fears of people who will be directly affected by imminent decisions that will have far-reaching implications.

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