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Mary Lou McDonald says she told Boris Johnson 'to make sure he's not the DUP's gofer'

DUP leader Arlene Foster said that Johnson told them “talk of a border poll is not something he’s interested in entertaining”.

Updated Jul 31st 2019, 1:00 PM

Boris Johnson visit to Northern Ireland Source: Liam McBurney

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and said she warned him “to make sure he’s not the DUP’s gofer”.

“He asked for our advice [on how to restore the power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland]. We have told him he needs to make sure he’s not the DUP’s gopher, he needs to stop mollycoddling them, and to spell out the realities of life to them,” she said outside Stormont.

The DUP said that the Prime Minister assured them during their meeting that he would “never be neutral on the union”.

Johnson met with the five main political parties in Northern Ireland today, to encourage a resolution in talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP to form a Northern Ireland Assembly, which collapsed over two years and a half ago.

In a statement following his meetings today, 10 Downing St said that the Prime Minister “made clear his belief and commitment in the rigorous impartiality set out in the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, while at the same time reaffirming his determination to strengthen the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it”.

Boris Johnson visit to Northern Ireland Source: Liam McBurney

The DUP is also supporting the Tories in government, something that Sinn Féin has argued impedes talks in Northern Ireland, as under the Good Friday Agreement the UK government and Irish government must be impartial intermediaries between the two sides.

Johnson attended a dinner with the DUP last night, something he said didn’t affect his “absolute impartiality”; but today following her meeting with the PM, McDonald said that she told him that “nobody believes that”.

He was told that the coalition with the DUP has “poisoned the groundwater here politically”, McDonald said, making it “very very very difficult to sustain a negotiation, much less to land on a conclusion”.

On Brexit, McDonald says that Johnson seemed to have “set the compass for a disorderly and a crash-out Brexit” and that he seemed “complacent about Ireland being the collateral damage of Brexit”.

I don’t believe we heard anything that would give us grounds for hope.
If he does the wrong thing by citizens here in the North, if he does the wrong thing by Ireland, he’s doing it with his eyes wide open.

This visit is part of Johnson’s tour of the UK; yesterday, Johnson met with the Welsh First Minister; on Monday he met with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. 

The DUP

DUP leader Arlene Foster said that Boris Johnson told them that he would “never be neutral on the union”, but he will be neutral on issues related to Stormont, which Foster says she’s heard “confused quite regularly”.

The talk of a border poll he told us is not something he’s interested in entertaining.

She said they discussed issues with Harland and Wolff and Wrightbus, and said that they would continue to work with the Prime Minister on these areas.

Boris Johnson visit to Northern Ireland DUP Leader Arlene Foster with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Source: Liam McBurney

Deputy leader and MP Nigel Dodds said that on the issue of the DUP hosting a dinner with Johnson the night before, that he hoped the media would question Sinn Féin on whether they will want to be part of a government in Dublin.

If they criticise so heavily as being contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, then clearly they won’t want anything to do with a future Dublin government, or else they’re being selective.

Dodds responded to McDonald’s comments that the DUP-Tory arrangement in Westminster had “poisoned the groundwater” at Stormont, by saying that people in Northern Ireland who have benefitted in healthcare, schools, and broadband access from the £1 billion in funds given to Northern Ireland as a result, would disagree.

Dodds also welcomed Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, who he said would bring “a focus on detail” to negotiations in the time ahead.

Johnson left Stormont earlier this afternoon, immediately after his meetings.

Earlier: ‘Playing chicken’

In a brief interview with Sky News on his way to the talks with Sinn Féin, Johnson said his focus is getting the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running.

“The people in Northern Ireland have been without a government, without Stormont, for two years and six months. My prime focus this morning is to do everything I can to help that get that up and running again.

Johnson said Brexit “may come up a little bit, I don’t rule that out”.

“I think the crucial thing to stress is that I obviously attach huge importance to the letter, the spirit, of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and will be insisting on that.”

Earlier, Sinn Féin’s leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly Michelle O’Neill accused Johnson of “playing chicken with the EU”, something  she said is “not going to work”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, O’Neill said Johnson was “clearly electioneering”.

“All his bluster and rhetoric and bullish language of the last week doesn’t serve anybody well, it actually strikes fear into the heart of the economy here,” she said.

O’Neill earlier said she plans to “make clear to him the people here voted to remain and there isn’t anything to good to come from Brexit”.

Boris Johnson visit to Wales Boris Johnson inspects a chicken during his visit Shervington Farm in Newport, south Wales, yesterday. Source: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire/PA Images

She stated that a no-deal Brexit could have devastating effects on the economy in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as putting the peace process in the North in jeopardy.

O’Neill said Britain crashing out of the EU would amount to “putting the Good Friday Agreement into the bin”, adding: “We cannot go there.”

She noted that Johnson’s Conservative Party depends on the DUP for political survival, saying “that itself is causing huge problems”.

Boris Johnson visit to Northern Ireland Source: Liam McBurney

She said the fact Johnson had dinner with members of the DUP prior to meeting other parties today “doesn’t put him off to the best start”.

‘Significant prospect of no deal’

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 Today this morning, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The prospect of a no-deal Brexit is significant”, adding that such a scenario is “not good in the short term for the economy in Northern Ireland”.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was not concerned that Johnson would call an election and sideline her party, adding: “We want to find a way forward.”

Foster, who campaigned in favour of Brexit, said “nobody wants a no-deal situation” but that governments must prepare for such a scenario.

She said estimates that Brexit could put 40,000 jobs in the North at risk, as put forward by Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling, are “hyperbole”.

‘Belligerence and intolerance’ 

Many Conservative and DUP politicians have raised concerns about the backstop element of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which aims to avoid a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and could see the North stay aligned to some EU rules.

Foster again stressed her opposition to the backstop today, accusing the Irish government of treating the North with “belligerence and intolerance”.

[They say] it’s the backstop or nothing, why is it the backstop or nothing? That is just what they have determined … I hope they will dial back on that rhetoric.

Irish and European leaders have repeatedly said that the deal cannot be renegotiated.

In his first speech as prime minister last week, Johnson pledged to leave the EU by the current deadline of 31 October.

“The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts,” he said.

“The doubters, the doomsters and the gloomsters are going to get it wrong again … We are going to come out of the EU on October 31 – no ifs, no buts. We will do a new deal, a better deal that will maximise the opportunities.”

- updated by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Órla Ryan

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