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NI protocol: Dublin and Brussels are not impressed, to say the least

Inside Politics: Government set to sign off on NMH deal, but the row is not over yet

Good morning.

British prime minister Boris Johnson arrived in Belfast on Monday in a bid to restore Stormont power-sharing, which has effectively collapsed over the DUP's continuing protest over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Today his government is expected to make a statement on its plans to unilaterally override parts of the protocol. That is despite warnings such a move could trigger a trade war with the European Union.

Brussels and Dublin are not impressed to say the least.

Ireland’s European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness told the BBC last night that “nobody will crack this with unilateral action… you have to do it across the table, European Union and the United Kingdom”.

She said she didn’t know what the purpose of unilateral action was, “because if it is about relationship building it fails”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for “substantive talks” between the EU and the UK, but was critical of the British government, saying the EU had already made concessions but that there had been “little reciprocation”.

And as Seanín Graham, Denis Staunton and Pat Leahy report in our lead, the DUP is yet to be impressed.

Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he would “suspend judgement” until he has sight of the British government’s proposals, which he will judge by actions, not words.

Simon Carswell provides a handy guide to the issues with the Northern Ireland protocol here.

Two weeks after the Stormont Assembly elections, it is by no means clear if a new Northern Ireland Executive will be formed any time soon.

Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising given that Brexit, the contentious issue holding things up, is not yet done almost six years after the UK's referendum and three years after the protocol was cooked up with Mr Johnson's participation.

According to a source at one event Mr Johnson attended in Belfast, he observed that it is ridiculous that customers could not buy the same products in Tesco in Belfast as they could at a Tesco in England. Such considerations are unlikely to have been at the forefront of Mr Johnson’s mind when he was striking what Conservatives claimed in the 2019 election was an “oven-ready” Brexit deal with the EU.

Mr Johnson claimed at the time that he would “get Brexit done”. He hasn’t delivered on that yet and it is holding up the resumption of normal politics in Northern Ireland.

National Maternity Hospital

Back in Dublin, the Government is poised to sign off on the deal for moving the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.

The decision had been postponed for a fortnight amid concerns expressed by some Ministers. As we report here, the deal is unchanged after the fortnight of intense debate over the ownership and ethos of the new hospital that followed.

It would be wrong to say the row over the plans is over. Sinn Féin has tabled a Dáil motion demanding that the hospital be built on public land. All eyes will be on Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan to see if she will defy the Government and support the Sinn Féin motion.

She remained undecided last night.

Best reads

Fintan O'Toole writes that struggling Ulster farmers should be alarmed about what the Tories are really thinking on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Harry McGee reports on how the Government is to extend a temporary pandemic law to make sure the sale and consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas of pubs and restaurants can continue during the summer months.

On the front page, Arthur Beesley has a story about how the Christian Brothers and a Bailey brother – builder Michael – are seeking planning changes to bring forward housing developments on their adjoining lands near Swords in north Co Dublin.

Playbook

Cabinet takes place this morning.

The Dáil kicks off with Leaders’ Questions at 2pm.

The debate on Sinn Féin’s motion on the NMH is at 4.50pm.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys take questions from 6.50pm.

Topical issues follow at 8.20pm.

In terms of committees, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and the Irish Red Cross will be taking questions on the response to the refugee crisis in committee room four from 3pm.

The full Dáil, Seanad and Committee schedules can be found here, here, and here.