04 Jul 2022

DUP actions 'doesn't change much' says Coveney as NI protocol talks set to continue

'It doesn't change much' - says Coveney as NI protocol talks set to continue

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister said the resignation of Paul Givan on Thursday is “very unwelcome”

Simon Coveney has assured talks between the UK and the EU will continue on the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland despite the resignation of the DUP First Minister.

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister said the resignation of Paul Givan on Thursday is “very unwelcome” and means politics in the region cannot now function “as it should and needs to”.

The resignation, which came into effect at midnight, automatically removed Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from her position.

Other Stormont ministers can remain in post but the Executive can no longer meet and is unable to take significant policy decisions.

The move is part of the DUP’s escalating protest strategy against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Coveney on Friday said talks will continue between UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic aimed at reducing the red tape associated with the protocol.

“To be fair to the DUP, they’ve been saying for some time, that if they didn’t get what they were asking for in relation to the protocol that they would do this.

“And now they’ve gone ahead and done it. But it’s certainly very unwelcome.

“It doesn’t change much actually, in the context of the negotiations that are going on between Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic – the two key negotiators who are trying to find common ground on how we implement the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that everybody can accept.

“Those discussions and negotiations continue and were continuing yesterday.”

Mr Coveney was also critical of the decision of DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to unilaterally order a halt to agri-food checks at Northern Ireland ports, as required under the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

He also said that officials in the Department of Agriculture are “continuing for now” with post-Brexit checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.

“I think it’s enormously frustrating for the other parties, who may have very different perspectives on things and don’t agree sometimes, but they agree on one thing, that politicians have an obligation to work together to solve problems in Northern Ireland and the DUP have decided to isolate themselves from that thinking,” Mr Coveney told RTE radio.

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson 

It was put to Mr Coveney that DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson does not believe that a workable compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol can be agreed by the end of February.

“How does he know that, if he doesn’t give it a chance?” Mr Coveney answered. “The point here is people are working night and day to respond to legitimate unionists concerns and anxieties.

“There’s no perfect solution here because Brexit causes problems and change. But the protocol was what was agreed between the UK and the EU and the Irish government were very involved in that, as indeed were parties in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It’s been very clear to everybody for a number of weeks, that Maros Sefcovic and Liz Truss were effectively setting the end of February as a key moment in time to actually agree a number of compromises that could take some of the heat out of the debate around the implementation of the protocol.

“And while we’re all working on that, to try and find a way forward and to build trust between the negotiating teams, the DUP decided to pull the plug on the Executive as a protest. So you know, the negotiations will continue but unfortunately, politics in Northern Ireland’s now won’t in the way that it should.”

He said that he understood Sir Jeffrey is unhappy and “under pressure”, but said that those concerns were not unique and other unionist parties, namely the Ulster Unionist Party, had decided to stay in the Executive to make it work.

“Believe me, we are listening to unionism,” he said.

He said that the reasons the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed was “about protecting our place in the EU single market, preventing border infrastructure re-emerging on the island of Ireland between North and South.

“And of course facilitating trade across the Irish Sea with as little disruption as possible into the future, and we’re working on all of those things.”

“Taking decisions to effectively undermine the functioning of politics in Northern Ireland really doesn’t help us in those efforts.”

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