Decisive action is necessary or no Stormont executive, Jeffrey Donaldson tells Micheal Martin

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told Taoiseach Micheal Martin that there has to be fundamental change to the Northern Ireland Protocol before the DUP will consider joining a new Executive.

By Henry McDonald
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 6:30 am
Updated Saturday, 21st May 2022, 6:56 am

The DUP leader said he expected that the Government’s legislation empowering it to override aspects of the Protocol to be introduced into parliament early next month.

He declined to say if at that point the DUP might move towards the nomination of a Speaker of the Assembly once the bill is brought forward.

“I am not going to telegraph to the Government what I will do until we see what this legislation says. That is fundamentally important. I called for decisive action and I want to see what the Government proposes to do.

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DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson at the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to meet Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Friday morning.Pacemaker

“I want the people of Northern Ireland to see what the Government is proposing to do, that is why publishing the legislation is important and once we see that legislation of course, we will consider what our next step will be,” he said.

On his meeting with Mr Martin, Sir Jeffrey said: “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.

“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.”

Mr Martin meanwhile revealed that the DUP informed him they had no difficulty taking up the role of Deputy First Minister but they have issues over the protocol that must be resolved first.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin pictured at The Grand Central Hotel, Belfast, on Friday

Mr Martin said he believed those issues can be resolved but only through substantive negotiations between the European Union and the British Government.

“We accept legitimate issues have been raised, but it is our view that they can be resolved. We believe there can be a resolution of issues around the Protocol, but the only way to do that is through a negotiated settlement.”

He called for the Assembly to be restored while “parallel discussions” continue between London and Brussels over Protocol issues.

“The Assembly and the Executive should operate parallel with the UK Government and the European Union engaging in substantive negotiations to resolve issues which have arisen in respect of the operation of the Protocol.”

Mr Martin also defended the Speaker of Congress Nancy Pelosi who warned that a US-UK free trade deal might be in jeopardy if the British Government unilaterally changed the Protocol.

“I think consistently US political leadership has been very strongly supportive of the Good Friday Agreement but also in support of peace on the island of Ireland. They have had a long term interest and have worked with all parties in the north and have received all parties from the north, unionist, nationalist and others. That consistent support for the political process has been helpful in that regard.

“There is a general desire on behalf of the United States and also the European Union that there should be political alignment between the US, the European Union and the United Kingdom,” he said.

The Taoiseach was in Belfast meeting with party leaders amid ongoing deadlock at Stormont over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

He also held meetings with business representatives on a visit that will be dominated by the political crisis over the contentious Protocol.

Following his meeting with the Taoiseach, UUP leader Doug Beattie said: “I reiterated to him what I said at the end of last year, at the beginning of this year and before the election is that if we did not do something in regards to the Protocol then there may be nothing to salvage after the election in terms of the institutions. And that is where we are in this moment in time.”

Mr Beattie said the “landing zone remains the same” for a solution to the Protocol that would satisfy Unionist concerns over the post-Brexit trade and how it has de-coupled Northern Ireland from the UK internal market.

“There should be no requirement for checks on goods that come from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are staying in Northern Ireland. If they are going on to the EU Single Market then they can be checked...that is the landing zone that can get people back into Government.”

l Ben Lowry, page 11