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Total failure by Government to address trade border concerns – Robinson

There has been a “total failure” by the Government in recent months to address unionist issues of concern around post-Brexit trading arrangements, DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson has said.

Mr Robinson said the Government knows what is needed to strike a deal that could end the powersharing impasse in Northern Ireland.

But Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy repeated his party’s call for the DUP to return to the Stormont Assembly, saying it is decision time for the party.

On Monday, representatives from the main parties in the region will gather at Hillsborough Castle for a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on how to address the region’s finances.

However, the talks will be overshadowed by the ongoing political stalemate at Stormont. The DUP has been blocking powersharing for more than a year and a half in protest against the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Cabinet reshuffle
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will hold talks with NI parties on Monday (PA)

The party has been involved in negotiations with the Government about the Windsor Framework, which reformed the protocol, and is seeking further assurances by way of legislation over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

Speculation has been growing in recent weeks that the DUP could be closing in on an agreement with the Government that could restore the Assembly at Stormont, with Mr Heaton-Harris saying negotiations are in their “final, final phase”.

But Mr Robinson told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme that while his party will attend Monday’s talks, it does not indicate a deal to restore devolution is any closer.

He said: “Jeffrey Donaldson said a number of weeks ago that we will not be calendar-led.

“The issues that we are raising with the Government have been long in fruition.

“It is a matter for the Government whether they are prepared to recognise the harm that they caused to Northern Ireland, recognise that the Windsor Framework was significant progress in that endeavour, but there is still more work to be done.”

More Northern Ireland stories - click above
More Northern Ireland stories - click above

Mr Robinson said the prize for achieving a deal with the Government would be beneficial for public services in Northern Ireland.

He added: “That is the opportunity that we need to seize.

“What we have seen over the last number of months is a total failure by the Government to seize that opportunity on resolving the issues of the Windsor Framework and fail to seize the opportunity to recognise that without a significant change to the way Northern Ireland is funded our public services are going to falter.

“To my mind, that is not good enough for our people.”

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy called on the DUP to return to Stormont (PA)

Mr Murphy said he hopes the DUP will go to Monday’s meeting prepared and ready to go back into government.

He said: “I hope they do the right thing and join the rest of us in powersharing.

“They have left us without a government here for almost two years now.

“The consequences of that have been very dire for our public services and to say to people they are not in any hurry to fix this, I think, is absolutely reprehensible.

“It is very clear to all of us that the patience which had run out some time ago among all of the parties and the public generally has now run out with the British Government, so I think the DUP are at decision time and they need to do the right thing over the next couple of days and come to the meeting on Monday prepared and ready to go back into the Executive.”

Mr Heaton-Harris has asked all Stormont departments to launch public consultations on potential revenue-raising measures for the region.

On Thursday, the department for infrastructure launched a consultation on introducing water and sewerage charges in Northern Ireland.