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DUP leader Edwin Poots is to meet Micheál Martin in Dublin this evening

DUP MLA Paul Givan said Poots wants to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Jun 3rd 2021, 12:36 PM 12,279 34

DUP LEADER EDWIN Poots is to meet Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin later today.

DUP MLA Paul Givan said Poots wants to raise post-Brexit arrangements with the Taoiseach, as well as the “north-south dynamic”.

The talks come amid tensions between the Stormont parties over the non-attendance of DUP ministers at north-south political meetings.

Regular meetings are held between ministers holding the same brief north and south of the border, but the DUP have been boycotting most of these meetings in protest against post-Brexit checks contained in the Northern Irish Protocol.

Last month, Poots described his relationship with the Dublin Government as “really, really bad”.

He said he has respect for the Taoiseach, but was critical of his predecessor, Leo Varadkar, and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

In an interview with The Journal on Monday, Coveney said that he’s spoken to Poots since he made those comments, and was hoping to meet with the new DUP leader “sooner rather than later”.

“The Protocol is international law, but we have to find a way of implementing the Protocol in a way that takes account of genuine concerns and frustrations of business people and predominantly the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. I hear those concerns, and we’re trying to accommodate them.”

Paul Givan said today that the north-south relationship is a “very important one”, and his party wants to be in a place where it has a “good relationship with our closest neighbours”.

But, turning to east-west relations, he said the Northern Ireland Protocol has caused “huge damage with no consent from the unionist people or its representatives”.

“That has had a very negative influence in terms of those relationships, and that’s something that we all collectively need to address,” he said.

He continued:

Edwin Poots is going to be travelling to Dublin this evening. There is a meeting that is going to take place with Micheal Martin, and I know that Edwin wants to be able to address these issues with the Taoiseach, and I think he’ll have more to say on the whole north-south dynamic later on today because it is vitally important that people understand, in the Republic of Ireland, the challenges and the difficulty that unionism faces, but we do need to identify and navigate ways through these difficulties, and that’s what Edwin is about.

“We need to just dial down the rhetoric a little bit and have a little bit of calm and mature politics and work our way through this in a sensible manner.”

Sinn Féin considers legal action

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has requested legal opinion from her department on the prospect of taking a judicial review against DUP ministers who have not engaged in recent meetings with Irish Government counterparts.

Givan responded this morning, saying he does not think a judicial review is “necessary”.

“Politics is about making things work, it’s about building up relationships and trust, and identifying where problems are, and putting yourselves in each other’s shoes and trying to see it from their perspective, and then you seek to navigate and try to find a way forward,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“It’s [legal action] always, in my view, something you do as a last resort.”

Givan said Poots wants a meeting of the party leaders’ forum to work to resolve difficulties and challenges.

Giving evidence to the Stormont Agriculture Committee this morning, Poots said “at no point have I refused to attend north-south meetings”.

“I have absolutely no issue in fulfilling all of my responsibilities under the Ministerial Code and have every intention of doing so,” he said.

The DUP’s non-attendance at north-south meetings represents another ratcheting up of tensions within the powersharing administration in Belfast.

It came after a North-South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting on languages, in which Sinn Féin MLA Hargey was due to take part, did not proceed because DUP Junior Minister Gordon Lyons did not attend.

The meeting could not take place as, under Stormont rules, any meeting with the Irish Government involving a nationalist Executive minister must include an accompanying unionist minister.

‘Arrogant disrespect’

The DUP has failed to take part in a number of cross-border political meetings in recent months, having made clear that north-south co-operation would be affected amid its campaign against Brexit’s Irish Sea border.

“North-south ministerial meetings are an integral part of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement alongside the Executive and the Assembly,” said Hargey.

“They need to be functioning properly, with ministers from all parties attending.

Today was the second occasion that a minister failed to attend a meeting on languages with Dublin ministers and prevented the meeting from going ahead.

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“As well as being disrespectful to the Irish language community, it is totally unacceptable for government business to be impeded in this way by a DUP boycott of one of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

“This arrogant disrespect cannot be allowed to continue.

“This action may be in breach of the ministerial code and tonight I have asked the Department for Communities for legal advice on bringing this matter to the courts in a judicial review.”

Today, the leaders of the five main parties in Northern Ireland are also due to meet to discuss the latest political developments in the region.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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