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An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port PA
Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin should reconsider stance on all-party talks with UK Govt, says Donaldson

The decision to exclude McDonald from the talks has been criticised by the Government and Sinn Féin.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 13th 2023, 2:49 PM

DUP LEADER JEFFREY Donaldson has said that Sinn Féin should reconsider their position on all-party talks with the UK Government, after the party pulled out following the refusal to admit party leader Mary Lou McDonald.

The decision to prohibit McDonald from attending all-party talks on Wednesday led to the SDLP refusing to attend, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying yesterday that he hoped a new precedent had not been set by the UK Government.

When asked if he would be happy to see McDonald attend all-party talks in the future, Donaldson said that it was an “internal matter” for Northern Ireland and that Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill had been invited.

“This is an internal matter for Northern Ireland. Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, was invited to those talks. She chose not to attend,” Donaldson told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“I think Sinn Féin should rethink that. If we’re going to resolve these issues, then all parties should put their shoulder to the wheel.”

However, the decision by the UK Government has been criticised by Sinn Féin and the Government.

McDonald labelled her exclusion from the talks as “absolutely bizarre and unprecedented” and said that the UK Government needed to recognise the “democratic mandate” that her party had.

Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste raised concerns about the exclusion of the Sinn Féin leader, with Varadkar saying that the Irish Government have never prescribed who can be on another party’s delegation.

brexit Taoiseach Leo Varadkar talking to the media outside the Stormont Hotel in Belfast PA PA

Donaldson’s comments on Sinn Féin come after his meeting with the Taoiseach in Belfast yesterday, which he described as “good”.

Varadkar yesterday accepted that the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol had been too strict.

“I have acknowledged that the way the protocol was implemented was too strict and too rigid and that created real difficulties,” Varadkar said.

“I am totally of the view that we can work together to make changes that are necessary, that can get back to a very low number of checks.”

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer also met with party leaders in Northern Ireland yesterday and has called for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to stand up to Eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches.

In Belfast, the Labour leader used a speech to tell Rishi Sunak that he will offer him “political cover” to strike an agreement with Brussels, to resolve the impasse over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Starmer said there would be “siren voices” on the Conservative benches warning the prime minister against making any compromises but he said Sunak needed to stand up to the “Brexit purity cult” and take on the European Research Group (ERG) in order to resolve the issues over Irish Sea trade.

However, he also told the audience at Queen’s University that unionist anger about the protocol was “more than justified”.

“In the coming weeks, it’s possible there will be siren voices in Westminster that say again, there is another path, a path that doesn’t require compromise on the protocol,” he said.

“In fact, it’s possible those siren voices will include, may even be led by, the very people who created the protocol, that were cavalier with the constitutional settlement of this United Kingdom, that came to this island and acted, to be blunt, in bad faith.

“You can listen to those voices, of course, it’s not for me to determine the interests of any community here.

“But I would counsel that the example to follow is not theirs, but the spirit of negotiation, of conciliation, of courage, that in the end is always the force which moves Northern Ireland forward towards the future.

“Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanisms in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you.

“The time for action on the protocol is now. The time to stand up to the ERG is now.

“The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which can never be satisfied, is now.

“We can find ways to remove the majority of checks – a bespoke SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) agreement, a monitoring system that eradicates checks on goods that will only ever be sold in Northern Ireland.”

brexit UK Labour leader Keir Starmer speaking at Queen's University in Belfast today PA PA

“Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanisms in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you.”

New legislation

It also comes as the UK Government published new legislation yesterday that would allow them to order the construction of border posts at ports in Northern Ireland for checks on goods.

The new legislation was published by a Minister of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Richard Benyon, and will primarily focus on the building of border controls in Northern Ireland at five points of entry.

The checks, which are currently required under the Protocol, are for agrifood goods that enter into Northern Ireland.

However, there were attempts to halt these checks by former DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who argued that there was no Executive approval for such checks.

This call was challenged however, with the UK High Court ruling that Poots’ attempted suspension was unlawful.

It is not clear whether or not this legislation is being brought forward as part of efforts to unilaterally create green and red lanes for goods, which were initially proposed in the UK Government’s controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

This bill proposed creating green and red channels for traders to differentiate between goods that remain within Northern Ireland and those destined for onward transportation across the border into the EU.

Goods arriving through the green channel would move free of customs or regulatory red tape while the requirements of the Protocol would continue to apply to red channel produce.

- Additional reporting by Press Association

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