NI Protocol: DUP calls for ‘decisive’ action to defend the Union

The DUP is insisting the UK government take “decisive” action to protect the Union, as it accused the EU of “belligerence” and of having “trampled all over” Northern Ireland’s institutions.

Saturday, 17th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 17th April 2021, 10:32 am

The call from Lord Dodds came as the DUP declined to send anyone to take part in a key cross-border meeting yesterday, with an SDLP source indicating that this left the “embarrassed” transport ministers of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland waiting in an online conference for someone who never materialised.

The DUP was heavily criticised by other members of the Executive for the move, which scuppered the scheduled gathering of the North–South Ministerial Council (though the DUP indicated that the non-attendance was due to scheduling issues).

All of this comes against a backdrop of still-smouldering tension over the Northern Ireland Protocol with the Province’s top vet setting out the “astronomical” amount of red tape which has been heaped upon Northern Irish port officials, who must now check goods being shipped into the Province from the UK mainland.

Workers based in the Port of Larne examine vehicles during February, in the aftermath of Brexit and the NI Protocol
Workers based in the Port of Larne examine vehicles during February, in the aftermath of Brexit and the NI Protocol

Chief veterinary officer Robert Huey told Stormont’s agriculture committee on Thursday that “Northern Ireland, with its 1.8 million people, is doing more import checks for products of animal origin than France” – a nation of some 65 million people.

He also said that “the number of CHED-Ps [a type of form required for importing animal products] that we are doing at the moment represents about 20% of all the CHED-Ps done anywhere in the EU”.

For comparison, the EU is comprised of 448 million people, split over 27 nations.

The latest salvos in the ongoing row about Brexit and NI’s place in the UK began yesterday afternoon, when the European Commission issued a statement insisting the NI Protocol is needed to “preserve peace and stability” on the island of Ireland.

Lord Dodds (pictured) responded that the EU “has ignored the views of Unionists and trampled all over the founding principles of the devolved settlement” and demanded action to protect the UK’s “constitutional integrity”.

Unionists have long complained that the Northern Ireland Protocol – a core part of the Brexit deal – means that a de facto border now exists in the Irish Sea, with officials forced to carry out checks on goods even though they are travelling within the UK.

The DUP statment continued: “As the Protocol continues to wreak havoc on east–west trading relationships and does real damage to the set of political agreements on Northern Ireland, clear and decisive action is required to replace these arrangements.

“Permanent solutions to these fundamental and far-reaching problems are needed, and needed quickly...

“The government must respond to this belligerence in a strategic and decisive way. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be restored and the economical and constitutional integrity of the UK protected.”

This statement from Mr Dodds came after a meeting of the North / South Ministerial Council collapsed.

The council is a cross-border forum set up under the Belfast Agreement so that ministers from both states can talk about mutually-important matters.

Yesterday’s meeting involved SDLP transport minister Nichola Mallon and Republic of Ireland transport minister Eamon Ryan.

However, the way the council has been set up means that before a meeting involving a nationalist minister can go ahead, it must also include a nominated unionist delegate (and vice versa for meetings involving unionist ministers).

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster indicated that missing the meeting was merely down to ministers having prior engagements, not a conscious veto.

She said “the date of today wasn’t something that we could meet.. the agenda wasn’t agreed, nothing was agreed for the meeting today between the different parties”.

Ms Mallon responded by saying: “This meeting was to take important decisions on all island transport projects that impact on the lives of citizens across Northern Ireland and the rest of the island.

“The DUP’s obstruction is a deliberate act to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.”

And Sinn Fein’s Deirdre Hargey said: “The North-South Ministerial Council meeting of ministers due to occur on March 31 to take important decisions on languages was cancelled at the final hour, as no DUP minister took part.

“Properly-functioning North–South structures are critical to the successful operation of the Good Friday Agreement framework. Unionist ministers do not get to cherrypick which meetings or structures they want to participate in, it’s an obligation and must be fulfilled.”

Meanwhile, Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party, said: “Another reason why the binary structures need reform. Ministers shouldn’t need ‘minders’ from ‘the other sort’ to proceed with business. Blatantly sectarian and another veto.”

As to whether the UUP could have stepped into the breech, with Robin Swann taking on the role of ‘designated unionist’ in the meeting, the party said: “Given the burden placed on the health minister and his department during the global pandemic, it’s both unrealistic and unfair to expect him to act as an accompanying minister, especially at very short notice.”

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Alistair Bushe