Unionists clash with Irish senators at Stormont over Brexit and NI protocol
Irish senators have clashed with MLAs in Stormont during a committee appearance to discuss issues over Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol.
In a meeting between the Seanad Special Select Committee on Brexit and the Northern Ireland Assembly Executive Office Committee, Irish senators insisted that the government in Dublin had always tried to represent people on both sides of the border.
“The Irish government is doing its best to advocate for all people on the island,” Fianna Fail Senator and committee chair Lisa Chambers told a meeting of cross-party MLAs.
“The Taoiseach is very keen to make sure all citizens feel represented. The Irish government are not elected by the people of Northern Ireland, but they try their best, in my view, to be a voice for the island at the Brexit table.
“Very much acknowledging that there is no political representation from Northern Ireland at the negotiation table,” she said.
That claim was rejected by DUP MLA Diane Dodds and UUP MLA John Stewart.
In a lengthy contribution, Ms Dodds told Irish politicians that it was not the Irish government that represented the interests of her community.
She said: “Not one unionist in this house supports the protocol and we reflect the society we represent.
“It is the United Kingdom Government, and whether you like him or don’t like him, the negotiator in Brussels, Lord Frost, who will be negotiating on behalf of Northern Ireland.
“We should be careful in our use of language. I get the feeling, many politicians from Dublin either ignore or don’t understand or simply want to whitewash over those facts.”
Mr Stewart, who stressed his party’s opposition to the protocol, said he had “never heard the Taoiseach or Tanaiste speak for unionism”.
Last week, the EU tabled a range of proposals aimed at cutting the red tape the protocol has imposed on moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
However, the plan did not address a key UK demand – the removal of the oversight function of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the operation of the protocol.
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the major obstacle in the Brexit divorce talks – the Irish land border.
It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.
But the arrangements have created new economic barriers on goods moving from Great Britain to NI.
Ms Chambers acknowledged that it remained a “fluid” situation as negotiations continue between Lord Frost and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.
However, she insisted – in the face of opposition from some unionist representatives – that the Northern Ireland protocol could be “brilliant” for the region.
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