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Taoiseach and Jeffrey Donaldson meet in Belfast as DUP rejects 'sticking plaster approach'

Micheál Martin has been meeting all of the Northern Ireland party leaders today.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin arriving at Grand Central Hotel in Belfast.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin arriving at Grand Central Hotel in Belfast.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated May 20th 2022, 4:33 PM

MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS said there is “no substitute” for negotiations between the European Union and the UK Government to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

An Taoiseach was speaking in Belfast following meetings with political and business leaders.

He said: “There is no substitute for a substantive series of negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom Government in respect of solving issues in relation to the protocol.

“We accept legitimate issues have been raised, but it is our view that they can be resolved.”

The DUP is currently blocking the re-establishment of Stormont’s power-sharing Executive in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol and has also prevented the Assembly from sitting because it cannot elect a Speaker without DUP support. 

Martin said he had an interesting meeting with the Brexit business working group where he heard of “the many beneficial impacts of the protocol on many sectors” of the Northern Irish economy.

“We believe there can be a resolution of issues around the protocol, but the only way to do that is through a negotiated settlement.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill “very much welcomes” US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s intervention in a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Pelosi said the US Congress will not support a free trade agreement with the UK if the Government persists with “deeply concerning” plans to “unilaterally discard” the protocol, urging “constructive, collaborative and good faith negotiations” in order to uphold peace.

“They’ve [US Congress] made it very clear that there will be no trade deal with Britain if they undermine the Good Friday Agreement,” the Sinn Fein vice-president said as she visited Scotland’s First Minister in Edinburgh today.

“Those statements are very, very important because we have to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

“The protocol provides us some mitigation against the worst impact of Brexit – the hardest possible Brexit that’s been delivered by Boris Johnson in London and the DUP partners in Belfast.”

Speaking to reporters after he met with Martin, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he held a “useful meeting” with An Taoiseach this afternoon and that his party is not interested in a “sticking plaster approach” to the Protocol standoff. 

“We are not interested in a sticking plaster approach, or tinkering around the edges, it has to be fundamental change which respects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and nothing short of that will suffice,” he said. 

We have had what I would describe as a useful meeting with the Taoiseach, we spelled it out very clearly to him the problems with the protocol, the harm it is doing to Northern Ireland and that we need a solution, we need decisive action to deal with these problems.

Both Sinn Féin and the UUP have said that Executive should be able to operate in parallel with talks between the UK and EU but Donaldson appeared cool on that suggestion today.

dup-leader-sir-jeffrey-donaldson-right-speaks-to-the-media-alongside-gavin-robinson-outside-the-grand-central-hotel-in-belfast-following-his-meeting-with-taoiseach-micheal-martin-picture-date-fri Donaldson speaking to reporters today. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“My understanding is that the (UK) government will bring forward the legislation early in June. We will note what the legislation says and we will take decisions based on the progress that is made,” he said.

We were very clear we would not enter the institutions until the issues around the Protocol are dealt with, I never said that was limited to the executive. I want the institutions to operate as soon as possible but I am not going to telegram to the government what I am going to do until we see what this legislation says, that is fundamentally important. 

In a statement last night, Donaldson had said that: “Dublin must belatedly recognise that if nothing is fixed then there will be no progress.”

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme today, Martin said that “in the democratic world” people should attend parliament. 

“I think most people would agree that, in the democratic world, when people vote for the representatives and vote to elect to parliament, the first thing that should happen is that that Parliament should convene. It’s unheard of in the democratic world that the parliament would not convene in the aftermath of an election,” he said. 

UUP

ulster-unionist-leader-doug-beattie-speaking-to-media-outside-the-grand-central-hotel-in-belfast-following-his-meeting-with-taoiseach-micheal-martin-picture-date-friday-may-20-2022 UUP leader Doug Beattie MLA. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Following a meeting with An Taoiseach today, UUP leader Doug Beattie said they had had “a frank discussion” over the Protocol and the proposed “landing zone”. 

It is expected that the UK is planning unilateral action to introduce separate “green” and “red” lanes for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The different lanes would draw a distinction between goods destined to stay within the UK and those heading to the Republic of Ireland and beyond.

Speaking today, Beattie said that there should be “no requirement” to check goods that come from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are staying in Northern Ireland.

He also suggested that while it could be a lengthy process to revive the Stormont Executive, the Assembly could restart in a limited way in a shorter period of time.

“I get a sense that this legislation, this unilateral action will probably be laid before Parliament in the first two weeks of June, and that may be enough for a (Stormont) speaker then to be nominated, and that allows us to do limited work… and what happens after that will depend on whether or not the DUP get the Executive up and running,” he said. 

Advances

During his appearance on the BBC, Martin said there had been “significant advances” from the European Commission on a range of issues in relation to the Protocol but he accused the British government of repeatedly “moving the goalposts”.

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“Both governments must work hand in glove together with the parties in Northern Ireland,” he said. 

I believe that the current UK government has moved too far in a unilateral way on a range of issues, be it legacy issues, be it the Protocol, and in my view that is not fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which involves collaboration and working together. 

Since the UK government announced that it is planning to introduce legislation to unilaterally change parts of the Protocol agreed between the EU and UK, concerns have been raised by both Irish, European and US politicians.

Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney met with Truss in Turin where he detailed “Ireland’s opposition to the U.K. breaching international law” with their plan to unilaterally alter the Protocol.

Coveney called for the UK to go back into talks with the EU and to avoid taking unilateral action and “damaging international relations”

Irish officials have said that they do not expect an instant reaction from the European Commission if unilateral action is taken and have instead pushed for talks between the EU and UK to continue.

- With reporting by PA

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Rónán Duffy

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