Dublin agrees there is ‘no quick fix’ to Northern Ireland Protocol – DUP leader

Taoiseach Micheal Martin was meeting leaders from Stormont’s five main parties in Belfast on Monday.

17 October 2022

The Irish Government now agrees that there is “no quick fix” to the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Speaking after a meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin in Belfast, the DUP leader also said it is the “Government’s call” on whether fresh Stormont elections are called later this month.

But Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said a winter election will be inevitable if the DUP continues to “dig in” and refuses to rejoin the power-sharing institutions.

The Taoiseach was meeting local parties in Belfast as the deadline to restore Stormont and avoid fresh Assembly elections rapidly approaches.

Mr Martin arrived at a city centre hotel on Monday morning ahead of his round of talks.

Ulster powersharing
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP (centre) with party colleagues Gavin Robinson and Emma Little-Pengelly (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP is blocking the functioning of the power-sharing institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against the post-Brexit protocol that has created barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by way of a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation which would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

Relations between the UK and EU appear to have improved since Liz Truss became Prime Minister, and London and Brussels have been talking up the potential for a deal through fresh negotiations.

Current legislation says that unless Stormont is restored by October 28, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has to call Assembly elections – something he has said he is prepared to do.

Speaking after his meeting with Mr Martin, Sir Jeffrey said he feels the Irish Government has recently developed a better understanding of unionist concerns about the protocol.

“I think it is clear that the Irish Government share our view now that we’re not looking here at some kind of a quick fix, that what we need to do is deal with the protocol issues comprehensively, that we need to get to a place where the foundations for the political institutions are restored and strengthened, and that’s where we want to get to,” he said.

Sir Jeffrey said there can be no “tinkering around the edges” with the protocol and there is a need to replace it with arrangements that “respect the integrity of the UK internal market”.

“I think the Irish Government recognises and understands our position better now than perhaps had been the case in the past,” he said.

“We want to see the political institutions up and running as quickly as possible.

“But, in the current circumstances, it’s difficult to see that solution coming forward before the 28th of October – we have to be realistic about that.

“The question as to whether there should be an election is a matter for the Government entirely. 

“It will not change my view, it will not change the view of the wider unionist community that the protocol needs to be sorted out. So an election won’t change that.”

Political party leaders meeting
Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long said a winter election is inevitable if the DUP does not return to Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alliance Party leader Mrs Long was the first to meet the Taoiseach on Monday.

Asked about a winter election, she said “If they (the DUP) continue to dig in then it is inevitable.

“But I think the more important question is what purpose does that serve?

“We cannot keep running elections in Northern Ireland until the main parties are satisfied with the outcome. That isn’t democracy.

“We’ve got our answer from the public. The job of a politician post-election isn’t to demand another one, so they can get a better result – it is to work on the basis of the mandate they got to deliver as best they can for the public.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it is irresponsible for the DUP to prevent the formation of an Executive (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking after his meeting with the Taoiseach, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it is “totally irresponsible” for the DUP to prevent the formation of an Executive.

“There’s a massive crisis in people’s homes right now, there’s a crisis, as there always, is in the health service, and our economy is in the toilet, and all the way the DUP are sitting out pretending they’re having some influence on the protocol negotiations,” he said.

The Taoiseach will hold separate meetings with Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill and Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie later.

His programme will conclude with a visit to meet participants in programmes working with schools as catalysts for peace and reconciliation.

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