‘Constructive’ first face-to-face meeting between Sinn Fein and DUP chiefs

·3-min read

The leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP have had a “constructive and frank” first face-to-face meeting, Mary-Lou McDonald has said.

The parties met at Parliament Buildings in Belfast less than a week after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s ratification as DUP leader, and discussed the Northern Ireland Protocol, powersharing institutions and the marching season.

Sir Jeffrey is the DUP’s third leader in two months after internal party coups overthrew his predecessors Arlene Foster and Edwin Poots.

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All three have made their opposition to the Protocol clear, describing it as placing a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Sir Jeffrey said the meeting was the second in a series of meetings with other party leaders.

He described it as a “useful opportunity to set out the issues”.

Ms McDonald said she set out her party’s “absolute commitment to powersharing and making powersharing work”.

She said she also made it clear to Sir Jeffrey that unionist concerns over the Protocol cannot be used to cause instability at Stormont or the North/South institutions.

“We spoke about the Protocol and unionist concerns in respect of it, of course Brexit was from the get-go a very bad idea, the Protocol and the protections contained in it are necessary mitigations against Brexit and the Protocol is here to stay,” she said.

“There are challenges, of that there is no doubt, but the joint committee and good faith actions by the British Government working with European partners, is the way to resolve those outstanding issues.

“The Protocol certainly cannot be used as a pretext to cause instability or place a question mark on the proper functioning of the Executive or Assembly here or indeed the North South Ministerial Council.

“The meeting of that North South Ministerial Council was cancelled in June, we very much hope it will convene by the end of July and we have put that to the DUP.”

Battle of the Boyne bonfires
A bonfire in the Loyalist Tigers Bay Area, Belfast, that is situated on the peace line (Peter Morrison/PA)

Speaking a week before the annual July 12 loyalist marches, Ms McDonald said she also urged the DUP to “show leadership” and ensure events remain peaceful.

There has been condemnation after Sinn Fein election posters have appeared on loyalist bonfires for burning on the eve of July 12, as well as the siting of a pyre close to a peace line in north Belfast.

However police say that out of about 250 bonfires across Northern Ireland, just two or three of them are sites of concern.

Ms McDonald said: “Now is a moment for leadership, I think it is absolutely essential that leaders lead in a way that ensures we have a safe summer for everyone, and I think certainly any attempts to ratchet up tensions in interface areas or anywhere else is unacceptable, and I think it is important that political leaders across the board say that loudly and very, very clearly.”

The Sinn Fein president added: “I really hope that under this new DUP leadership we can see a new sense of common purpose, goodwill and good faith because ultimately those are the things that will sustain powersharing.”

Meanwhile in a statement after the meeting Sir Jeffrey said: “Obviously the DUP and Sinn Fein come at many issues from a totally different perspective and in particular we set out our view that the NI Protocol is unacceptable.

“Political progress and stability is achieved when both unionists and nationalists support outcomes.

“Unionism does not support the Protocol.

“We discussed a range of other issues where work can be undertaken for the benefit of everyone in NI and we agreed to keep an open channel of communication.”

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