Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has responded to harsh criticism by new DUP leader Edwin Poots of his role in Brexit negotiations by insisting the Northern Protocol was necessary.
After his election as leader of the DUP, Mr Poots was asked about his relationship with Dublin.
In response, he was critical of Mr Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who brought a copy of The Irish Times to Brexit negotiations in the EU. The front page story was about an IRA bombing of a Border customs post in 1972 that left nine people dead.
“For Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, who took photographs of blown-up Border posts to impose upon Northern Ireland people the harshest form of customs and an internal market that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, that was quite frankly disgraceful.”
At a press conference in Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar was asked to respond to Mr Poots’s criticism of him and Mr Coveney, and their role in the concept of the Northern Protocol.
Mr Varadkar said he and everyone in Government understood that the Protocol had created some difficulty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.
“It is necessary. It is there to avoid a hard border between North and South, [and to avoid] customs and border posts across nine counties,” he added.
Mr Varadkar congratulated Mr Poots on his election and said he knew what an “enormous honour” it was.
However, he said that so far “no viable alternative has been put forward.”
“Ultimately any decision to disapply it would actually be one made by the Assembly. There is not a majority in the Northern Assembly to disapply it, and I don’t think there will be.
“So instead let’s do the practical thing and work together. Let’s work together with the European Commission, with the British government, with the Irish Government…to find practical solutions to some of the problems that have arisen…
“Let’s work together on promoting the many positive aspects that arise from the protocol, Northern Ireland having this unique status, where they’ve access to both the UK market, and the single market of the European Union, something that can be used to their advantage,” he said.
On Thursday evening, Mr Poots was confirmed as the DUP leader at a meeting in Belfast of the party’s 130-strong executive.
The meeting revealed the extent of the divisions within the DUP, with outgoing leader Arlene Foster as well other senior figures including the MPs Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Diane Dodds and Gregory Campbell leaving before Mr Poots made his inaugural speech as leader.
At the meeting Mr Poots said he has respect for Taoiseach Micheál Martin, but he criticised Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney.
Asked about his relationship with Dublin following his ratification as leader, Mr Poots replied: “I would say that I have respect for Micheál Martin.”
Mr Poots said that Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney “are going to starve Northern Ireland people of medicines no less, cancer drugs and other materials, such as the food that’s on our table.”
“And I say that’s a shame on the Irish Government that they (did) that, and that belongs to Fine Gael, under the leadership of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.
“So relationships are really, really bad for the Irish Government as a consequence.”– Additional reporting by PA