Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has said the Irish Government and European Union must take some responsibility for the current divisions and tensions in the Northern Executive and Assembly over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Asked on Sunday about the stability of the powersharing executive Ms Foster said that “relationships are not in a very positive place at this present moment in time”.
“I think the Irish Government and the European Union need to take some responsibility for that because they have turned their face against listening to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. I think that is a mistake,” she told RTE’s This Week programme.
Ms Foster said that she remained dedicated to making devolution work. “We will just have to work through the problems that are there.”
The DUP leader defended the British government’s action in unilaterally extending the grace period for avoiding checks on some good entering Northern Ireland from Britain.
“It was very clear to me that the European Union was not going to move in the appropriate timeframe to deal with real and tangible dangers to our ports and to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she said.
Ms Foster said she spoke to businesspeople on Friday and they all agreed “it was the right thing to do because they needed the action at the beginning of March so that it did not impact on goods coming across the Irish Sea at the end of March”.
While the EU was taking legal action against the British move Ms Foster said that the British attorney general was quite convinced that extending the grace period on goods entering the North was lawful.
The DUP leader said what was sometimes overlooked in Dublin was that the position of “all unionists” was that the protocol must be replaced “because it is causing untold damage to Northern Ireland”.
“The protocol is the consequence of the Irish Government and Irish nationalism misrepresenting the Belfast Agreement. I really regret that because what we have now as a consequence of that is that the cross-community element of the Belfast Agreement is under threat,” she said.
Ms Foster said the EU and the Irish Government were “so fixated” on not having any North-South Border structures that they damaged the “internal trade within the United Kingdom”.
She accepted that the EU wanted to protect its single market but through the protocol it was “damaging relations in Northern Ireland”.
Ms Foster also was asked about her reaction to the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) - which represents the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) - declaring its “unanimous opposition” to the protocol while adding that this should be “peaceful and democratic”.
She did not believe there was an implied threat of violence in the statement. She saidthe LCC had emphasised that the opposition to the protocol should be “peaceful and democratic”.
Referring to how the Covid-19 programme is more advanced in Northern Ireland Ms Foster said it was her wish and desire “that everyone on the island of Ireland would be vaccinated in the fastest way possible”.
Asked would she be in favour of surplus UK vaccines being offered to the Irish Government Ms Foster said it was an issue that the British prime minister Boris Johnson should discuss with the Taoiseach Micheal Martin.
The First Minister hoped the vaccine programme in the South would “pick up pace” because it was important “that if people are coming and travelling across the Border that they are vaccinated”.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told the RTE programme that she agreed with Ms Foster that “calm and orderly leadership” was now required.
"The facts are that Brexit is difficult. We shouldn't be naive or imagine that all of the difficulties can be mitigated or cancelled out. But certainly the protocol is necessary - these are necessary protections for the island of Ireland," she said.
Ms McDonald said it appeared that Ms Foster and her colleagues “who were the most ardent proponents for Brexit” were not prepared to face up to the “real consequences of Brexit”, one of which is “checks at ports”. – PA