Uncertainty over north-south meeting on environment

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First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill join other ministers (PA) (PA Media)
First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill join other ministers (PA) (PA Media)

There is uncertainty over whether a north-south meeting on the environment and marine aquaculture will take place later this week.

Stormont’s Executive Committee heard that the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots has not confirmed if he will attend.

It comes as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) stages a boycott of north-south meetings in an act of protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Earlier this week a High Court judge in Belfast ruled the boycott in protest is unlawful.

On Tuesday, First Minister Paul Givan told the Assembly a planned north-south meeting on health on Thursday will go ahead.

On Wednesday, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the Stormont Executive Committee there has been no correspondence from Mr Poots, of the DUP to advise on attendance to a north-south meeting on the environment on Friday.

First Minister Paul Givan said there is not an officially scheduled meeting on Friday (PA) (PA Wire)
First Minister Paul Givan said there is not an officially scheduled meeting on Friday (PA) (PA Wire)

She said she had written to Mr Givan to ask if he will nominate another unionist minister to allow the meeting to go ahead, but has not received a response.

Appearing at the same committee, Mr Givan contended there is not an officially scheduled meeting on Friday.

“A scheduled meeting only becomes such whenever the Executive Office has signed off on that,” he said.

“There is no scheduled meeting by which Minister Poots has to attend until such a meeting becomes officially sanctioned by the Executive Office.”

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan told Mr Givan “the onus is on you to nominate another unionist minister if there is going to be a no-show from the DAERA minister… are you going to do that for the meeting on Friday?”.

Mr Givan said there is “not a no-show by the minister for agriculture because there isn’t a show unless the Executive Office agrees the agenda and the date and the attendee, it’s only at that point that I would need to nominate a replacement because a minister was unavailable”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged DUP ministers to ‘get on with doing their job and get back to business’ (PA) (PA Wire)
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged DUP ministers to ‘get on with doing their job and get back to business’ (PA) (PA Wire)

Asked if other ministers had notified the Executive Office that they intend to attend the meeting on Friday, Mr Givan said: “The other Executive colleagues have not been notified about the meeting on Friday, the Speaker of the Assembly has not been notified about the meeting on Friday because there is no officially scheduled to take place on Friday, and any minister that shows up at that is doing it for purely political presentational purposes.”

Earlier in the meeting, Ms O’Neill welcomed the High Court ruling.

“I think that the inaction of the DUP to nominate ministers to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) not only undermines our politics and the fact that we have three component parts of our politics here, relationships in the north itself, within the Executive itself, our north-south relations and our east-west relations and all those things are interdependent, and one doesn’t work without the other,” she said.

“I welcomed the ruling by the courts this week, it shouldn’t have to be that way but I do welcome the ruling and I encourage the DUP ministers who have boycotted our NSMC meetings just to get on with doing their job and get back to business.”

She added that she hopes “progress” around Thursday’s meeting “marks an end to the DUP’s damaging and illegal boycott of the NSMC”.

Meanwhile, DUP MLA Christopher Stalford asked Mr Givan how many north-south meetings had taken place between 2017-2020 at a time when the Assembly was collapsed after the resignation of former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

To the response of none, Mr Stalford added that he thinks “it’s very, very important that people reflect on their previous actions”.

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