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The next Conservative prime minister should abandon Boris Johnson’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol and the legacy of the Troubles, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said.
The Sinn Fein minister said the current chaos within the Tory party underlines the “futility” of the DUP boycott of the powersharing institutions at Stormont.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Murphy also predicted that if the current Stormont impasse is not broken, he would have to hand the Treasury back large sums of unspent money which could be used to help people in the cost-of-living crisis.
Two major pieces of Government legislation relating to Northern Ireland are currently travelling through Westminster.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would give ministers the power to scrap parts of the post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, passed its second reading stage last week.
This week, the Government’s controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill also passed its latest Commons stage.
The Bill proposes an effective amnesty for Troubles crimes for those who co-operate with a new information body.
Mr Murphy said he hopes it is not too late for a new prime minister to change course on the two issues.
He added: “We are into a limbo situation now for however long the current Prime Minister stays on.
“Whether that heralds a rethink in terms of the approach to both protocol and legacy, I hope it does, but we are not certain.
“Meanwhile as we sit in suspended animation waiting for these things to play out, the people that we represent in Northern Ireland need our support and can’t get it because the DUP continue to boycott our own institutions.
We need them to abandon the course they are on in terms of the protocol and in terms of legacy and get back to dialogue
“Whatever the outcome, and it may not be known until the autumn, who might be in any positions, we don’t know yet, who the secretary of state might be, we don’t know yet, we need them (the Government) to abandon the course they are on in terms of the protocol and in terms of legacy and get back to dialogue with the rest of us and honour the agreements that they made.
“We need to ensure that the British Government stop using issues in relation to the north as part of their broader Brexit negotiation with the EU, that they insist the DUP go back into government, that they stop acting unilaterally in terms of legacy, which no-one supports.
“The British Government shouldn’t be taking unilateral action, they should be negotiating this out with the European Union and allowing us to deal with the real crisis we face in terms of getting a budget to face the cost-of-living issues and support our health service.
“The uncertainty in Britain caused by chaos within the Conservative Party just emphasises more the futility of the DUP boycott.”
Northern Ireland is currently without functioning powersharing institutions because the DUP is refusing to join until its concerns over the protocol are addressed by the Westminster Government.
But Mr Murphy said the institutions could and should be restored immediately.
“It is in the gift of the DUP, they are the ones who are preventing the institutions working,” he said.
“They can decide tomorrow, with all of the uncertainty at Westminster, that they can go back in.
“The longer this impasse goes on the more likely the outcome that we will be handing very significant amounts of money back to the Treasury at the end of the financial year because we can’t spend it, and that means that people will go without support.”
Mr Murphy was speaking after a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Guernsey, which was not attended by the DUP.
He said: “It is always a very useful discussion because there are a lot of shared challenges from all of the administrations.
“There is a degree of bemusement because the DUP had originally intended to come and then didn’t arrive.
“It didn’t prevent us from contributing. Their boycott of this doesn’t stop the arrangements working.
“I am not sure what the purpose of their boycott is to be honest but people just get on with the business at hand.”
Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns, who also attended the British-Irish Council, said the Government wants a negotiated solution of the challenges of the protocol.
He said: “We want to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s internal market at the same time as protecting the single market and goods moving through Northern Ireland.
“We absolutely want a negotiated solution with the EU. And we hope that the mandated vice-president secretary has the space he’s been given within that mandate to negotiate that solution is broadened.
“Until that happens, we have an obligation as the Government to take the necessary legislative steps to fix the implementation of the critical to make it work.
“And therefore to unlock the challenge of devolved, restored powersharing government in Northern Ireland.”