Debris of protocol must be cleared for Stormont to return – DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Debris of protocol must be cleared for Stormont to return – DUP leader
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Sir Jeffrey was speaking ahead of a meeting with Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Monday, and he reiterated the political institutions need the support of unionists as well as nationalists and others.

The Taoiseach is meeting local parties in Belfast as a deadline to restore Stormont and avoid fresh Assembly elections rapidly approaches.

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Mr Martin arrived at a city centre hotel on Monday morning ahead of his round of meetings.

DUP party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses delegates at their party conference at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. Picture date: Saturday October 8, 2022.DUP party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses delegates at their party conference at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. Picture date: Saturday October 8, 2022.
DUP party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses delegates at their party conference at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast. Picture date: Saturday October 8, 2022.

The DUP is blocking the functioning of the powersharing institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against the post-Brexit protocol that has created barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by way of a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation that would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

Relations between the UK and EU appear to have improved since Liz Truss became Prime Minister and London and Brussels have been talking up the potential for a deal through fresh negotiations.

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Current legislation says that unless Stormont is restored by October 28, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has to call Assembly elections - something he has said he is prepared to do.

Sir Jeffrey said: "We must lay solid foundations if we are to move forward.

"We need to clear away the debris of the protocol years.

"We need to restore cross-community consensus.

"No unionist MLAs support the protocol. Therefore, it must be replaced by arrangements that unionists can support.

"This is essential if the political institutions are to function and succeed."

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The DUP leader also called on Brussels to "loosen the guide ropes" for its negotiating team so problems with the protocol can be discussed and resolved.

He added: "The protocol continues to bedevil us, with businesses and consumers reporting further problems each week.

"A 25% tariff on steel, driving up transport costs by almost 30%, and uncertainty over medicine and veterinary supplies.

"The checks, however, on the Irish Sea border are but a symptom of the problem.

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"They are the product of Northern Ireland being subject to a different set of laws imposed upon us by a foreign entity without any say or vote by any locally-elected representative.

"If we can secure a better way forward, then there is a great prize of stable devolved government, but without decisive action in Dublin and Brussels then the protocol will continue to erode the foundations of Stormont.

"Devolution requires the support of unionists as well as nationalists if it is to function and succeed."

Sinn Fein, which emerged as the largest party in Northern Ireland during Assembly elections earlier this year, has repeatedly called for Stormont to return immediately to address the cost-of-living crisis.

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Speaking last week, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said: "We need to get around the executive table today, no more delays. Particularly whenever you see the scale of challenges that we have to tackle as an executive, not least fixing our health service."

The Taoiseach will hold separate meetings with Ms O'Neill, Sir Jeffrey, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood and Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie.

His programme will conclude with a visit to meet participants in programmes working with schools as catalysts for peace and reconciliation.