Meeting will allow Government and Edwin Poots take stock of each other

New DUP leader has been repeatedly critical of protocol since replacing Arlene Foster

Edwin Poots is expected to set out his case for changes to the Northern Ireland protocol during what will be his first meeting with Government officials in Dublin this evening. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Edwin Poots is expected to set out his case for changes to the Northern Ireland protocol during what will be his first meeting with Government officials in Dublin this evening. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Dublin gets its first encounter with the new DUP leader this evening, when Edwin Poots travels south for his first meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin since he ousted Arlene Foster a month ago.

It’s not exactly the Irish Government’s first look at Mr Poots; he has been a capable and efficient operator of the North-South institutions during his time as a Stormont Minister.

That context, however, has been thrown overboard by Brexit and the discontent it has created, specifically by the application of the Northern Ireland protocol which has caused significant anger amongst unionists and loyalists in the North.

Mr Poots has repeatedly demanded that the protocol be scrapped but other statements suggest that he understands his best hope is having its implementation on the ground adjusted so that many of the more intrusive checks and other disruptions to North-South trade can wither away.

In any event, the Irish Government is not going to negotiate the protocol with Mr Poots or anyone else – it’s a matter between the UK Government, which as every Irish official will tell you within five minutes of raising the subject, signed up to the thing in the first place, and the EU.

There is no doubt that Dublin wants to be as helpful as possible to smooth a workable arrangement, but it’s not going to get offside with the EU.

Interestingly, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney – who has been the object of regular broadsides from the DUP leader – won’t be around for this evening’s meeting, as he is travelling to London for a meeting with the British EU negotiator, Lord David Frost. There might be as much protocol business done there as in Dublin tonight.

Government sources in Dublin were tightlipped about this evening’s meeting but the sense from officials was that there is a desire to get off on a decent footing with Mr Poots.

The Taoiseach had a good personal relationship with Arlene Foster, though it’s debateable how productive it was in the end.

There is not, at present, any plans for a joint statement or press conference, suggesting that each wide will stick in public to the pre-meeting positions.

Mr Martin will want to make private progress with Mr Poots, though he might find that to be easier said than done.

Ultimately, Mr Poots knows he can’t rely on London; Boris Johnson’s Government has demonstrated it will suit itself, not the DUP, in its dealings with the EU. But Dublin doesn’t want unionism cast adrift either.

Mr Martin will present himself as an ally of Northern Ireland. So far, it looks the opposite way to Mr Poots.