Poots has ‘frank discussions’ in Dublin over NI Protocol tensions

DUP leader Edwin Poots has held “frank discussions” with the Taoiseach Micheal Martin about tensions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 9:41 pm
Taoiseach Micheal Martin (right) meeting with DUP Leader Edwin Poots (left) and DUP MLA Paul Given at Government Buildings, Dublin. Julien Behal Photography

Mr Poots made his first visit to Government Buildings in Dublin since becoming party leader, where he said that NI cannot be a “plaything” of the EU.

A new raft of checks on goods at the ports of Belfast and Larne under the terms of the protocol have sparked anger among unionists.

Mr Poots had earlier attended a virtual meeting of the Stormont party leaders’ forum before he vowed that there would be “very frank discussions” in his meeting with Mr Martin.

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Taoiseach Micheal Martin waves goodbye to DUP leader Edwin Poots and MLA Paul Givan, after their meeting at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

He added: “There is a lot of anger in Northern Ireland currently about the Northern Ireland Protocol; that manifested itself on the streets a number of weeks ago when we had the greatest level of street violence that has been seen for many years.

“We really need to recognise that the protocol, as it currently exists, is not deliverable and must go.”

Mr Poots continued: “I believe there are solutions which can be achieved to ensure that the single market is protected and there are no borders on the island of Ireland and can also deal with the issue of the barriers that have been erected between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

“Every single person is finding that their food costs are going to go up as a consequence of 15,000 checks per week on food which was exactly the same standards of production as it was last year.

DUP leader Edwin Poots, with MLA Paul Givan (right), speaks to media after a meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

“We are looking at animal movements being blocked, and most importantly we are looking at medicines and medical devices, of which over 90% come from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, having obstacles put in the way of coming, including new cancer drugs.

“These things are entirely unacceptable, not for me as a unionist, but for me as a leader of people in Northern Ireland because they impact every single person in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Poots reiterated his view that relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic had soured because of the protocol.

He said: “I have to say that our relationships between north and south have never been as bad.

“I do not blame the current taoiseach for that. I blame the past taoiseach (Leo Varadkar).

“Northern Ireland cannot be a plaything of the European Union or indeed the southern government. Northern Ireland people are more important than that.”

Mr Poots added: “We cannot have a situation where some of the lowest paid workers anywhere in the European Union are going to have their food costs driven up, where people who require medication cannot get that medication.”

The meeting with the taoiseach came at the end of a busy day for Mr Poots. Earlier he had attended the Stormont agricultural committee where he denied that he had refused to attend any north-south ministerial meetings.

During the appearance he also defended a decision to temporarily withdraw staff from post-Brexit checks at ports earlier this year.

Mr Poots said he was “very concerned” about the risk to staff and a report of a threat against staff from a “coded source”.

The DUP leader has also said that he intends to lead a team into the next north-south ministerial meeting on June 18.

He said: “It would be my intention to lead the DUP team to that meeting.

“I believe that there are important issues that we need to discuss and deal with. On the basis that there is going to be a serious attempt to assist in dealing with the protocol I believe that we should be seeking to help normalise relationships once again.”

Meanwhile, leaders of the devolved nations have accused the Westminster government of “undermining devolution” after they spoke with the prime minister to discuss the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

Boris Johnson and other ministers, including Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove, met virtually with the first ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as other officials yesterday.

Speaking after the meeting, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said Mr Johnson could cause the break-up of the UK if he decides to “steal powers and steal money” from the Welsh government.

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Alistair Bushe