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Just like that, Brexit is back on top of the agenda

Inside Politics: Poots upped the ante with an order to halt post-Brexit checks at NI ports

And just like that, Brexit was back at the top of the agenda.

Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland's Minister of Agriculture, upped the ante on Wednesday and ordered his officials to halt post-Brexit checks at ports from midnight.

The order was to apply to agri-food coming into the North from Britain. Politicians in the North were not in the dark about what Poots was planning – he signalled earlier in the day that he was seeking legal advice on the matter. Speaking after he received that advice, he said there was “presently no Executive approval” for sanitary and phytosanitary checks.

The attention immediately shifted to London with perhaps some (though not much) expectation that the UK government would intervene.


After all, Poots issued a similar instruction last year but the checks continued after civil servants were told they were legally obliged to carry them out.

The message from the British government last night, however, was that it was not planning to step in. A spokesman said “the operation of checks” was a matter for the Executive, adding that there were “significant problems with the protocol which urgently need fixing”.

Freya McClements and Pat Leahy outline in their piece on the front page today how, when asked if the order would be obeyed, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said: "The Minister has received senior counsel advice and has issued an instruction on that basis."

The political reaction was swift with condemnation from the Irish Government, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said such a move would be "a breach of international law". Speaking online, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill called the move a "stunt".

The DUP has made no secret of its frustration with the pace of talks on the Northern Ireland protocol. It has also repeatedly threatened to withdraw its Ministers from the Stormont Executive – potentially leading to the collapse of the powersharing institution – if changes are not made. All of that has been made very clear.

What was not clear this morning is what happens next. Lorries arrived before dawn at the port and there appeared to be at least some form of checks happening.

Where will this leave the powersharing agreement and whither the DUP?

Will this force a full confrontation on the protocol? How will the European Union respond?

It is lost on no one that Northern Ireland is just three months away from an Assembly election. There is a lot at play and this story will develop more throughout the day, so keep an eye on

Inflation woes

The pressure posed by inflation and the rising cost of living are two issues that are moving on to the political centre stage. For weeks, Opposition parties have said that the proposed €100 electricity grant is simply not enough to help struggling households. The response from Government has been “we will do more” and now it seems those details are being fleshed out.

In their front-page piece today Jack Horgan-Jones, Cormac McQuinn and Eoin Burke-Kennedy reveal how the Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar told his parliamentary party that the electricity subsidy is "not enough".

While specific measures have not yet been identified, sources suggested further energy subsidies or measures to shield people from charges directly imposed by the Government could be considered. The pressure will be on for pay rises ahead of public pay talks in the autumn.

The economic backdrop is favourable, however, as new figures show the Government collected €6.7 billion in tax last month, up 24 per cent (€1.3 billion) on the same month last year.

The next step will be a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on economic recovery planned for next Thursday and we will, as ever, keep you in the loop.

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Dáil Éireann
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will take questions on the social protection brief at 9am, and Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman will take questions on his brief at 10.30am.

Leaders’ Questions will be up at noon as is the norm on a Thursday.

There will be questions on promised legislation at 12.34pm and then Government Business is taken from 1.44pm onwards. This will include the law to give households a €100 credit towards electricity bills. The Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 is also up, which will put in place improved oversight and regulation of higher-education institutions.

The Redundancy Payments Bill is also up which is an important one for workers affected by Covid-19. This Bill gives employees who have lost out on reckonable service while they were on lay-off because of restrictions, and have subsequently been made redundant, a special payment of up to a maximum €1,860 tax-free to bridge the gap in their redundancy entitlements.

Topical Issues are scheduled shortly after 8pm and then it is time for a Private Members’ Bill – The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2021. This is a piece of Sinn Féin legislation. It would enhance the powers of the Office of the Information Commissioner to allow it to refer complaints under FOI legislation to the Standards in Public Office Commission for investigation.

The Dáil adjourns at about 10pm.

The full and more detailed schedule can be found here.

The normal business of the day starts with commencement matters at 10.30am followed by the order of business at 12pm. There are a few Bills up in the afternoon after 1.15pm, including the Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021. This is an interesting one – it allows for the introduction of a new An Garda Síochána operating model and provides for drug-testing of Garda members and civilian staff working within An Garda Síochána.

During Private Members' Business, the Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Amendment) Bill is up, which is being brought by Senator Eileen Flynn. The politician is introducing the Bill to substitute the words "child pornography" with "child sexual exploitation material" in all legislation.

The full schedule is here.

The Public Accounts Committee meets at 9.30am with representatives from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and officials from the Department of Transport.

At 1.30pm, the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage is meeting for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Monuments and Archaeological Heritage Bill. There are a few interesting bits in this Bill. It would allow the State to ratify some key international conventions in heritage protection and there are also proposals about the automatic legal protection for finds of archaeological sites.

The full agenda for all the committees can be found here.