Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has slammed a threat by the DUP to withdraw their ministers from the Executive if the UK takes no action over the Brexit Protocol as “reckless” and “irresponsible”.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson signalled that his party would collapse the powersharing Executive within weeks if changes to the protocol were not delivered.
He also announced his party’s immediate withdrawal from cross-border political institutions established on the island of Ireland under the Good Friday peace agreement.
DUP MLA Peter Weir hit back at Ms O’Neill’s comments, saying they “will take lectures on responsible government from Sinn Fein”,
Reacting on Monday after returning to Stormont following a bout of Covid-19, Ms O’Neill criticised the DUP’s position.
“The thing that weighs most heavily on people’s minds right now are the issue of the winter ahead, and what that looks like in terms of the pandemic, waiting lists and how the Executive is going to take the pressure off our health service and ensure that people have timely access to medical care, it’s about agreeing a budget – for the first time ever over the next number of weeks we have the opportunity to agree a multi-year budget,” she said.
“It’s about ensuring that we prioritise the one billion in peace funding that we can have to distribute across communities here.
“So I think that it is totally irresponsible and reckless, given the high stakes that are involved, that the DUP is threatening to pull down the institutions when all the rest of the Executive parties are here to do business and actually serve the public.”
The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
Unionists in Northern Ireland are opposed to its terms, which see additional checks on goods arriving in the region from the rest of the UK, regarding it as a border in the Irish Sea.
Mr Weir responded saying the protocol has “failed”, adding: “If Sinn Fein want to play a constructive and responsible role they should encourage the EU and UK to engage constructively and seek solutions”.
He also pointed to the resignation of former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness in 2017 which led to the collapse of Stormont for almost three years.
“Northern Ireland endured three years without any decisions being taken because of Sinn Fein’s demands.
“As recently as June Michelle O’Neill’s party were again threatening to force an election on the issue of Irish language legislation.
“No-one will ever take lectures on responsible government from Sinn Fein,” he said.
“If Sinn Fein want to demonstrate a commitment to responsible politics then they should call for the UK Government to legislate in this area.
“They could also join in calling for substantive engagement between the UK and the EU to find the solutions which are necessary for both political and economic stability here.”