New DUP leader tells Irish Government to stop supporting NI protocol

Jeffrey Donaldson says Dublin’s protocol ‘cheerleading’ will impact North-South relations

Jeffrey Donaldson: ‘It is not acceptable for [the Irish Government] to simply listen to a nationalist perspective and not to listen to the concerns of unionists.’ Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty

Jeffrey Donaldson: ‘It is not acceptable for [the Irish Government] to simply listen to a nationalist perspective and not to listen to the concerns of unionists.’ Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty

 

Incoming DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has told the Irish Government to stop “cheerleading” for the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Donaldson, who became leader-designate on Saturday, signalled that North-South relationships will be impacted if Irish Ministers do not change stance. He accused the administration in Dublin of only advocating for the nationalist side of the community in Northern Ireland and ignoring the concerns unionists have over the imposition of Irish Sea trade barriers under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

After his leadership bid received the endorsement of the DUP electoral college on Saturday, Mr Donaldson was asked about engagement with the Irish Government. “I want to make clear to the Irish Government that their cheerleading for the protocol is simply not acceptable, given the harm that it is doing to Northern Ireland, it is dragging our politics backwards,” he said.

Earlier this year, DUP Stormont ministers engaged in a de facto boycott of North-South political meetings with Irish Government Ministers as part of their campaign of opposition against the new Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots announced a re-engagement in such meetings after holding talks with Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin earlier this month. However, a planned meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council was cancelled last Friday amid the turmoil surrounding Mr Poots’s dramatic resignation as party leader the night before.

Mr Donaldson said it will be inevitable that North-South relations will be damaged if the east-west relationship between Britain and the island of Ireland continues to be “harmed” by the protocol.

Unionist concerns

“The Irish Government and the Irish prime minister [Mr Martin] have made clear that they want to protect the peace process, they want to protect political stability in Northern Ireland,” he said. “But the Irish Government has to step away from being a cheerleader for one part of the community. If the Irish Government is genuine about the peace process, is genuine about protecting political stability in Northern Ireland, then they too need to listen to unionist concerns.

“It’s not just London, Dublin also need to understand that if we’re going to move forward and have co-operation, if they’re intent on harming our relationship with Great Britain, they cannot expect that it will be business as usual on the North-South relationship.

“The Belfast agreement is very clear – the three sets of relationships [North-South, east-west and within Stormont] are interlocking and interdependent. If you harm one element, one relationship, you harm all of them. If the Irish Government continues to support the imposition of a protocol that harms our relationship with Great Britain then, by implication, it harms the relationship between Dublin and Belfast.

“Now, I don’t want to be in that position. But I am very clear, and I will be saying this clearly to the Irish Government, it is not acceptable for them to be on one side of this argument. It is not acceptable for them to simply listen to a nationalist perspective and not to listen to the concerns of unionists.”

Endorsed

DUP MPs and Assembly members formally endorsed Mr Donaldson as their new leader on Saturday.

The party’s 36-strong electoral college met in a Co Antrim hotel to rubber-stamp the Lagan Valley MP’s ascent to the top job.

The gathering comes after a chaotic two months for Northern Ireland’s largest party.

Internal divisions have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and her successor, Edwin Poots.

Mr Donaldson (58), the party’s Westminster leader, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the DUP leadership after the dramatic resignation of Mr Poots last week.

Mr Poots’s demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Mr Donaldson in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.

Mr Donaldson became leader-designate after receiving the endorsement of the electoral college, which is made up of 28 MLAs and eight MPs.

He will become the official party leader next week when the DUP’s ruling executive meets to ratify his appointment.

Mr Poots’s resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Féin, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.

Party anger at a UK Government pledge to grant Sinn Féin a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’s decision to nominate a First Minister, Paul Givan, to lead the administration alongside the republican party.

Serious question marks now hang over the future of Mr Givan. Mr Donaldson has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the First Minister’s job.

However, the timeline for that move remains unclear. Mr Donaldson would have to trigger a parliamentary byelection in Lagan Valley to re-enter the Assembly, and it is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings. – PA