Taoiseach says DUP decision on North-South institutions would create challenges

Jeffrey Donaldson threatens to collapse Stormont over Northern Ireland protocol

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has warned that his party could collapse the Stormont Executive "within weeks" unless changes to the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol are not made. Video: Reuters

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the decision by Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson to withdraw his party's participation in North-South institutions would create challenges for the Government.

“It is no secret that I am passionately committed to preserving the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and their full operation in all aspects, North and South. Mr Martin said that it was clear that Europe was in “solution-mode”.

Mr Donaldson has threatened to trigger an election at Stormont within weeks unless there are changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Donaldson said it was not sustainable for his party to remain in the powersharing administration under the current post-Brexit arrangements.


"I'm prepared to go to the country and seek a fresh mandate," the Laggan Valley MP said during a speech in Belfast.

"If we can't get action taken quickly to address the harm, the damage on a daily basis that this protocol is doing to Northern Ireland, then I think the people of Northern Ireland should have a say in this."

Speaking at the Fianna Fáíl special meeting in Co Cavan, Mr Martin said in recent days he met EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic and had a meeting over the weekend with the UK side.

“I’m clear that Europe is in solution mode, that Europe wants to work hard within the existing arrangements to make the protocol work for the people of Northern Ireland.” He said the issues from the perspective of the Government is can it make the protocol work.

“What’s clear is that all parties would like to see streamlining and more flexible working of the protocol.

“That’s what we are going to work on,” he said.

Mr Šefcovic has held talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders. Mr Šefcovic described the talks with the separate leaders as “constructive” and said that everyone had agreed that they need to work together to resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to the PA news agency at Stormont, he said: “I think everybody was very constructive and what I really appreciate was that all the representatives clearly underlined that we have to work together to find a solution to the issues that are on the table.

“I promised them that I’m ready to engage with all of them, bilaterally and collectively, because we really want to resolve all the issues linked to the protocol and to turn it into the opportunity which really we believe that it is.”


Sinn Féin criticised Mr Donaldson’s comments as “reckless” and “irresponsible” while the SDLP accused the DUP leader of “playing indulgent games”.

Mr Donaldson made his remarks as Mr Šefcovic began a two-day visit to the North.

Mr Donaldson said “consequences will follow” unless solutions were found to “prevent the situation in Northern Ireland spiralling out of control”.

The DUP leader said his party will “immediately withdraw” from the North-South political institutions established under the Belfast Agreement. However, he added that “important health based matters would continue to be addressed”.

He said his party wanted to block any additional checks on the Irish Sea for goods travelling between Britain and the North but the legal advice was that they had “very little room to manoeuvre” under the protocol arrangements.

If DUP ministers cannot prevent the checks then their position in the power-sharing Executive “will become untenable”, Mr Donaldson said.

Mr Donaldson said the timeframe for resolving issues “is weeks, not months or years”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Mr Donaldson’s warnings as a “reckless, irresponsible and short-sighted election stunt”.

She said: “The DUP is clearly in panic mode, driven by poor opinion polls, they are focused on their own narrow self-interest ahead of the interests of workers, families and local businesses,” she said.

“Unionism has lost its political majority, the DUP is in disarray and their vote is in decline.”

Ms McDonald said her party would tell Mr Sefcovic, the EU executive’s chief interlocutor with Britain, that the DUP “do not represent or speak for the majority of people in the North”.

She added: “Jeffrey Donaldson and his party championed a hard Brexit along with the Tories regardless of its consequences for jobs, for workers and business... The protocol is a result of this which aims to mitigate the impact of Brexit on business and people of this island.”

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy defended the protocol as being in the best interests of workers, businesses, farmers and society in the North and across the island. He accused the DUP of favouring a Brexit scenario that they hoped would lead to a reinforcement of the Border in Ireland.

“The protocol was the result of many months and years of careful negotiation to try and ensure that that wasn’t the case,” the Cavan-Monaghan TD said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie accused Mr Donaldson of making “threats leading to instability and further harming our people here in Northern Ireland”.

“I certainly won’t be asking my party to withdraw from the Executive when we are still dealing with a Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on a health service which is facing challenges on an unprecedented scale,” he said.

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood told the BBC the DUP was "playing indulgent games that are more about polls than protocols".

He said : “What Jeffrey really wants is to look at a border on the island of Ireland and that is not acceptable.”

An opinion poll two weeks ago suggested electoral support for the DUP had slumped to 13 per cent, making it the North’s fourth most popular party, behind Sinn Féin, the UUP and Traditional Unionist Voice.

Mr Sefcoviis due to deliver a speech at Queen’s University, Belfast on UK/EU relations and to meet the North-South Ministerial Council on Friday.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times