Stormont is not implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol – First Minister

·3-min read
First Minister Paul Givan (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
First Minister Paul Givan (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan has insisted the Stormont Agriculture Minister is not implementing the Brexit Protocol.

The DUP representative was also questioned over his party’s boycott of North-South Ministerial Council meetings during Executive Office questions in the Stormont Assembly on Monday.

The exchanges came as “intensified talks” were ongoing between the EU and UK to try and find a solution to the protocol issues.

Unionists contend the post-Brexit trade arrangements damage the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain by placing a border in the Irish Sea.

The scene on Abbott Drive in Newtownards near Belfast, after a bus was hijacked and set alight in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)
The scene on Abbott Drive in Newtownards near Belfast, after a bus was hijacked and set alight in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)

The hijacking and burnings of buses in Newtownards and Newtownabbey in recent weeks has been linked to loyalist anger at the protocol.

Mr Givan said the protocol has “upset the delicate balance that the Belfast Agreement created”.

He urged the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost and the EU to “intensify the process this week as we need to see a resolution to the issues”.

TUV MLA Jim Allister challenged Mr Givan in the Assembly on his party “continuing to implement this union dismantling protocol”.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) was to construct new customs posts at ports to implement the additional checks required under the protocol.

Former agriculture minister Gordon Lyons ordered a halt to the work earlier this year.

A High Court challenge to the ministerial decision is ongoing.

Mr Givan responded to Mr Allister, insisting that the current Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots “is not implementing the protocol”.

“Indeed, if he had of been, we would have been facing a much worse situation,” he told MLAs.

“It’s (as) a result of the DUP minister holding the department that we haven’t had the protocol being implemented.

“It is that minister that introduced the grace periods in respect of pets and is continuing to ensure that the protocol isn’t being implemented.”

He added: “It is the Democratic Unionist Party which pursuing a policy to try and eradicate the borders that have been created down the Irish Sea and he should seek to join with us to encourage his fellow unionists in terms of the strategy that we are taking forward.”

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd challenged Mr Givan on his party’s non-attendance at NSMC meetings, putting to him “on what planet would it be acceptable for a minister to refuse to carry out their lawful duties under the ministerial code other than the DUP planet”.

“When will you act lawfully and send the message out to those people on the streets who are acting unlawfully in the hijacking and burnings of buses and other activities, and ensure that you are living up to your obligations, your legal obligations, under the ministerial code,” he said.

A legal challenge taken by a Belfast businessman to the DUP position on NSMC meetings is currently ongoing.

Mr Givan responded to Mr O’Dowd saying in 2008 Sinn Fein boycotted Executive meetings, and “pulled down” the powersharing government in 2017.

“When it comes to thwarting the activities of the institutions created by the Belfast Agreement, it is Sinn Fein that have been the masters of that,” he said.

He added: “There is an active case in the courts in respect of these issues and it would be inappropriate for me to be using this chamber to be making points which ought to be made in the courts.”

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