DUP accused of ‘political impotence’ by Fine Gael Senator

‘I think he is very low level’: DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson declines to engage with Richmond

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

A Government Senator has accused the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of “political impotence”.

In a statement issued through Fine Gael’s press office, Neale Richmond said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was right to criticise the United Kingdom’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Varadkar’s harder line on the border has provoked an angry response from Northern Ireland’s largest party, the DUP.

“The DUP’s whinging doesn’t hide their political impotence. They would be far better off seeking to influence their Government partners in Westminster and working to get the Executive back up and running to give Northern Ireland a strong voice,” Mr Richmond said.

“Being a good friend requires one to be honest. In the Brexit debate, Ireland is the best friend the UK has and it is only right that the Taoiseach and Minister [for Foreign Affairs Simon] Coveney should point out when the UK negotiating side is lacking.”

The DUP declined to respond to Mr Richmond’s comments. Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “I think he is very low level, is he not? I don’t think we want to get into a ping-pong with someone who is not even elected. If Fine Gael put up somebody with credibility we will respond.”

On Sunday the DUP accused the Government of “going backwards” and “politicking” over Brexit in preparation for a general election.

However, Mr Richmond, who speaks for his party on European Union affairs, said the Government and the EU could not be expected to provide all the solutions to the problems created by the UK’s departure, “especially on areas like a proposed border which run contrary to the aims of the Irish Government or indeed the Good Friday Agreement”.

No evidence

He said there was still no Stormont executive in place four months after the Assembly elections and claimed there was no evidence of DUP influence on the minority Conservative government in Westminster.

“It is therefore highly frustrating to see the embattled DUP giving out about the honesty of the Irish Government when they’ve done nothing to progress Northern Ireland’s position in the Brexit conversation despite having ample opportunities to do so.”

Mr Richmond said the DUP had assured unionists in Northern Ireland throughout the referendum campaign that Brexit would not impact negatively on their economy, agricultural sector or regional funding.

“Unsurprisingly the outlook for these sectors and many more is pretty bleak with many problems presenting,” he said.

“As the Brexit debate unfolds, it is quite clear that those who championed leaving the EU such as the DUP, and people like David Davis and Boris Johnston have very few detailed suggestions on how to actually solve the problems that Brexit presents for this island and in so many facets of daily life.”

Last Friday, Mr Varadkar said the Government was very keen to see the Stormont executive back up and running because a unique voice for Northern Ireland was urgently required in Brexit negotiations.

Useful

He said he had taken part in useful phone calls about Brexit with Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones recently.

“But when it comes to Northern Ireland I have nobody to ring,” he said.

He signalled the most significant differences yet with the British government on Brexit, saying Ireland was “not going to design a border for the Brexiteers”.

Meanwhile, the former Ulster Unionist Party leader Lord (Reg) Empey has warned that the Government is “playing with fire” over Brexit.

“The Irish Government is playing into Sinn Fein’s hands; that party is calling for Northern Ireland to be given ‘special status’ within the EU. This is shorthand for a major change in our constitutional position and a repudiation of the principle of consent contained in the Belfast Agreement. They are playing with fire,” he said on Monday.

“Up until now there has been a consensus amongst all parties throughout these islands and both governments that none of us want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“This welcome consensus could be threatened however, if the Irish Government persists in trying to use this consensus as a vehicle for advancing an all-Ireland agenda. Indeed, if anyone should be seeking ‘special status’ it should be the Irish Republic.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said Leinster House politicians, and “indeed local nationalist Remainers, need to decouple their nationalist agenda from the Brexit negotiations if they want a sensible outcome”.

“Thinking they can pull a fast one by demanding the removal of the border to the Irish Sea is as futile as it is green politicking. There are no circumstances in which a border can exist between integral parts of the United Kingdom. Mr Varadkar needs to grow up and abandon his childish ‘I’m not playing’ stance or his UK-dependent country will be the biggest loser,” he said.

“Of course, the best solution for the Republic is itself to leave the EU and seek to be part of a British Isles trading block, but that is a matter in the first instance for them. We have made our choice. We are leaving the EU and Dublin needs to face that reality.”