Donaldson accuses Dublin of being ‘tone deaf’ to unionists’ protocol concerns

UK Bill to unilaterally set aside parts of agreement delayed by debate over its legality in internatonal law

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has described the Irish Government as “tone deaf” to unionist concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol, warning that the Stormont institutions cannot be restored until those concerns are addressed.

“They are tone deaf to concerns to unionists. They don’t get it and if they do, they ignore it,” he told the House of Lords subcommittee on the protocol.

“If the Irish Government want to see the institutions restored, they are going to have to listen to unionist concerns ... If the Taoiseach believes the way forward is to continue to implement the protocol, what does that say about their desire to protect the political institutions established under the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement?”

Mr Donaldson welcomed the UK government’s willingness to unilaterally override parts of the protocol in legislation that is expected to be published next week. The Bill had been expected this week but it has been delayed amid questions over whether it is in breach of international law.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood asked UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday about a report that first treasury counsel James Eadie had not been consulted on the legality of the legislation. Mr Johnson said the report was not true but Sky News reported later that Mr Eadie had been shown advice from an external lawyer arguing that Britain could renege on its protocol obligations to protect the Belfast Agreement but asked not to express a view on it.

Mr Eadie agreed not to give his opinion on the advice but he praised as “more convincing” advice from another lawyer who said it would be “very difficult” for Britain to argue that the legislation did not breach international law. In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused the UK government of failing to act in good faith on the protocol.

“I have said many times that there are solutions to practical problems under the protocol if there is a political will to find them. But that requires partnership. It requires the UK government to engage with good faith, seriousness and commitment. Unilateral action to set aside a solemn agreement would be deeply damaging. It would mark a historic low point, signalling a disregard for essential principles of laws which are the foundation of international relations,” he said.

Mr Donaldson said he was disappointed with the Taoiseach’s remarks but favoured a pragmatic solution to the issues surrounding the protocol, particularly checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

“I think there is too much ideology in this debate and not enough pragmatism. This is too much about, on the one side, punishing the UK for daring to leave the European Union, and on the other side, you know, whatever Brexit means to some people. I supported Brexit. I make no apology for that. But I do not believe that it has been right for Northern Ireland to be used as some kind of political football in this ideological game that has developed since the referendum in 2016,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times