Edwin Poots says North-South relations have ‘never been worse’
Incoming DUP leader blames ‘Republic led by Varadkar and Coveney’ for poor ties
The incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots was answering questions in the Assembly on Tuesday in his capacity as the North’s Minister for Agriculture. Photograph: PA
The incoming DUP leader has claimed in the Stormont Assembly that North-South relations have “never been worse”.
Edwin Poots blamed “the Republic of Ireland led by Mr [Leo] Varadkar and Mr [Simon] Coveney in particular”, who he said had “sought to create barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, our main trading partner”.
He was answering questions in the Assembly on Tuesday in his capacity as the North’s Minister for Agriculture.
“As a consequence of that every home is being damaged, and on the Executive’s papers . . . in every area of health, in medical devices and medicines we are in the red zone, that is a zone that we have been put there as a result of the protocol which was driven very heavily by the former taoiseach and tánaiste,” Mr Poots claimed.
“So Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland relations are very bad and they need to be fixed, but we need to get some reassurances that we’re going to get something considerably better than we currently are in terms of protocol to fix those relations.”
The North’s Minister for Agriculture, Nichola Mallon, said on Tuesday that she had sought legal advice over the DUP’s boycott of some North-South Ministerial Council meetings as part of its campaign against the Northern Ireland protocol.
Unionists are opposed to the protocol because it places a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea, and Mr Poots has pledged that as DUP leader he will take a tougher stance against the protocol.
The absence of the DUP has meant that some of the council’s meetings have been unable to take place.
“I understand the DUP are having new leadership but, regardless of who the leader is, they have legal responsibilities and I am so concerned by this matter that I have sought legal advice from the attorney general on this particular issue,” Ms Mallon said.
Mr Poots was speaking in the Assembly in response to a question from the SDLP Assembly member (MLA) Patsy McGlone, who asked him to “confirm that he would not obstruct any further North-South meetings”.
The incoming DUP leader also said he “remained committed to all of my duties as a Minister in this devolved assembly” and went on to defend his record on North-South co-operation, citing his role as a former minister for health in the establishment of a cross-Border radiotherapy service at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry and the agreement that paediatric cardiac patients from the North could receive surgery in Dublin.
Asked by the DUP MLA Keith Buchanan for the staffing cost incurred at Northern Ireland’s ports because of the implementation of the protocol, Mr Poots said the figure came to almost £24.5 million (€28.3 million) since June 2020.
Meanwhile, the DUP met David Frost, the UK minister responsible for EU relations, on Tuesday and called again for the replacement of the protocol.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said there had been a “direct and forthright exchange of views” and they had made clear that the UK government “must act carefully but decisively to restore the delicate balance of community relations in the coming days”.