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NI First Minister insists Stormont agriculture minister 'not implementing' protocol

Paul Givan said it is because the DUP holds the agriculture ministry that “we haven’t had the protocol being implemented”.

File image of Paul Givan.
File image of Paul Givan.
Image: PA

NORTHERN IRELAND’S FIRST Minister Paul Givan has insisted that the Stormont agriculture minister is not implementing the NI Protocol.

The DUP representative was also questioned over his party’s boycott of North-South Ministerial Council meetings during Executive Office questions in the Stormont Assembly today.

The exchanges came as “intensified talks” were ongoing between the EU and UK to try and find a solution to the protocol issues.

Maros Sefcovic said today that the EU will consider all of the tools at its disposal if the UK government triggers Article 16.

The European Commission vice-president said if the UK government suspends the Northern Ireland Protocol, it will have “serious consequences” for the region and Brussels’ relationship with the UK.

Addressing Irish politicians, the Commissioner said he worries about the rhetoric and action of the UK government around the implementation of the agreement, particularly the divisive protocol.

Sefcovic said there was a “change in tone” in the latest round of talks with Brexit Minister David Frost.

He told the special select committee that the EU is is fully committed to protecting Good Friday Agreement.

“However, I have to say that I worry about the rhetoric and action of the UK as regards the implementation of the agreement and in particular the protocol,” Sefcovic added.

Paul Givan said the NI Protocol has “upset the delicate balance that the Belfast Agreement created”.

He urged David Frost and the EU to “intensify the process this week as we need to see a resolution to the issues”.

TUV MLA Jim Allister challenged Givan in the Assembly on his party “continuing to implement this union dismantling protocol”.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) was to construct new customs posts at ports to implement the additional checks required under the protocol.

Former agriculture minister Gordon Lyons ordered a halt to the work earlier this year.

A High Court challenge to the ministerial decision is ongoing.

Givan responded to Allister, insisting that the current agriculture minister Edwin Poots “is not implementing the protocol”.

“Indeed, if he had… we would have been facing a much worse situation,” he told MLAs.

“It’s [as] a result of the DUP minister holding the department that we haven’t had the protocol being implemented.

It is that minister that introduced the grace periods in respect of pets and is continuing to ensure that the protocol isn’t being implemented.

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He added: “It is the Democratic Unionist Party which pursuing a policy to try and eradicate the borders that have been created down the Irish Sea and he should seek to join with us to encourage his fellow unionists in terms of the strategy that we are taking forward.”

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd challenged Givan on his party’s non-attendance at North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings, putting to him “on what planet would it be acceptable for a minister to refuse to carry out their lawful duties under the ministerial code other than the DUP planet”.

“When will you act lawfully and send the message out to those people on the streets who are acting unlawfully in the hijacking and burnings of buses and other activities, and ensure that you are living up to your obligations, your legal obligations, under the ministerial code,” he said.

A legal challenge taken by a Belfast businessman to the DUP position on NSMC meetings is currently ongoing.

Givan responded to O’Dowd saying in 2008 Sinn Féin boycotted Executive meetings, and “pulled down” the powersharing government in 2017.

“When it comes to thwarting the activities of the institutions created by the Belfast Agreement, it is Sinn Féin that have been the masters of that,” he said.

He added: “There is an active case in the courts in respect of these issues and it would be inappropriate for me to be using this chamber to be making points which ought to be made in the courts.”

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