No political stability in the North until protocol issues are resolved, warns DUP leader

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There will be no political stability in the North until unionists’ concerns over post-Brexit arrangements are resolved, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has warned.

MP for Lagan Valley says Boris Johnson ‘badly’ let unionists down by not focusing on tensions over Northern Ireland Protocol, as he dealt with the so-called partygate controversy at Downing Street.

“The prime minister let us down and let us down badly,” he said.

“At the Conservative Party Conference this year I met the Prime Minister – he apologized to me. The problem is that we had a lot of talk about triggering Article 16 which the protocol allows the (UK) government to do in circumstances where there is economic, societal or political harm caused by the protocol and yet we have had no action.”

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has dismissed reports that Mr Donaldson has been ruled out that Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney has not contacted the DUP leader for months.

“We talked about unionism and Jeffrey knows it,” he said.

“I met Jeffrey and all the leaders of the Unionist Party, as well as all the leaders of Northern Ireland, before Christmas in November… We talked about the protocol issues.”

Mr Martin said there is an ‘open channel’ between Dublin and the DUP and Mr Donaldson ‘can call me at any time’ and he can call him.

Early elections

Mr Martin said there was no ‘necessarily’ need for snap elections in the North and that all parties should respect the institutions put in place under the Belfast deal.

“Taking down the executive or undermining the executive for short-term electoral tactical purposes is not in my view acceptable,” he said.

Suspensions of the power-sharing executive “on a number of occasions now” have caused northerners to “lose faith and trust in these institutions, which I think is very unfortunate”.

Sinn Féin National Chairman Declan Kearney has accused the DUP of sparking a political crisis in a bid to avoid handing Sinn Féin the role of Prime Minister after the Assembly elections.

“It is a crisis of power sharing and whether trade unionism is ready to accept political power being shared in this state,” he said, speaking at a commemoration of two men from the IRA – Phelim Grant and Charles McCann – died after a bomb they planted on a barge in Lough Neagh in 1972 exploded prematurely.

“At its heart is the old mantra that ‘no nationalist needs apply’; that no nationalist should apply for the post of Prime Minister.

The MP for South Antrim said the DUP did not want power sharing ‘unless it was on their terms’.

“They don’t want democracy unless it’s on their terms,” ​​he added.

“The challenge that political unionism has created for itself now is whether it will accept the leadership of change in this society. This is the political crux of the next Assembly election.

The protocol’s controversial Article 16 allows the EU or the UK to unilaterally suspend certain aspects of its operations if either party considers that aspect to be causing “economic, societal or environmental hardship”.

The protocol was negotiated as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by effectively keeping the North in the EU’s single goods market.

The resulting additional checks on goods arriving in the region from Britain are opposed by trade unionists, who believe it threatens the North’s constitutional status within the UK.

DUP Premier Paul Givan resigned from his post on the power-sharing executive at Stormont on Thursday in protest at what the party sees as inaction on protocol.

Mr Donaldson said he had repeatedly asked Downing Street to commit to Article 16 being triggered if there was no agreement between London and Brussels on removing the border de facto trade in the Irish Sea.

While he wanted to see political stability in the North, he said that could not happen until the controversy over port inspections and controls was resolved to the satisfaction of trade unionists.

“But we can’t have political stability when the concerns of trade unionists are completely ignored, when protocol damages our relationship with the rest of the UK and the government fails to act,” he told SkyNews.

Speculation

On the timing of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, due in May but with speculation that the date could be brought forward, Mr Donaldson said it was up to the UK Secretary of State for North Brandon Lewis to decide.

Despite polls showing Sinn Féin was widening its lead over the DUP as the biggest party in the North, which would allow it to appoint a prime minister if it was replicated at the polls, Mr Donaldson said he “ did not envisage defeat against Sinn Féin”.

His party is working to keep ‘the DUP and trade unionism as the biggest bloc in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in these circumstances I think we will have a DUP first minister’, he said .

Although he is committed to devolution and power-sharing, “we cannot continue with the situation where the views and concerns of trade unionism and unionist parties in Northern Ireland are ignored”, he said. -he adds.

Mr Donaldson said “solutions need to be found” and that he hoped this would happen before the Assembly elections.

Appealing to Mr Johnson to divert his attention from the party gate controversy to the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Donaldson said the British Prime Minister should follow the lead of his predecessors.

‘Serious problem’

“Recognize that we have a serious problem here and instead of focusing on what is happening in Downing Street, be the Prime Minister the people need, reach out to Northern Ireland, help us solve these problems, make it a priority,” he said.

“Let us put our political institutions back on a sound footing. It means dealing with protocol.

“We can’t go on like this. We cannot continue with a situation where serious issues like the ones we have here in Northern Ireland are not getting the attention they deserve.

Mr Donaldson said the controversy surrounding parties in Downing Street during the Covid-19 restrictions “makes it difficult for the Prime Minister to focus on what needs to be prioritized”.


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