DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has restated his position to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin that his party will not re-enter the Stormont Assembly until the Northern Ireland protocol is replaced.
The Tánaiste is meeting Northern Ireland’s five main political parties in Belfast amid the continuing stalemate within the devolved government.
Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said she told Mr Martin that a year without a functioning Assembly is “not good enough”, and accused the DUP of “punishing the public”.
One year ago, former first minister Paul Givan (DUP) resigned as part of his party’s protest over the post-Brexit deal.
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The DUP contends the protocol is a border in the Irish Sea and is undermining the union between Northern Ireland and Britain, as well as hampering trade.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris spoke of his disappointment in a series of tweets at reaching the one-year anniversary of the impasse.
“Today marks one year since the then-first minister of Northern Ireland resigned. Twelve months and one Assembly election later, it is disappointing that people in Northern Ireland still do not have the strong devolved government that they deserve,” he said.
“The restoration of the Executive, in line with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, remains my top priority. I will continue to do everything I can to help the parties work together to make that happen.”
Negotiations between the UK and the EU on the protocol remain ongoing.
Ms O’Neill said she urged Mr Martin that the EU and UK “close out” on a deal on the protocol as quickly as possible.
She said she was “encouraged” by what Mr Martin had said of the EU-UK negotiations.
“I think he shares the same assessment, that there does appear to be good soundings coming from what is happening,” Ms O’Neill said.
“People seem to have went quiet, I hope that that means that they’re working really hard, that they’re going to get to a point where there is a deal on the protocol. I hope that that happens speedily, I would encourage both sides to continue doing what they’re doing.”
Earlier Mr Donaldson described his meeting with Mr Martin as a “useful and constructive conversation”.
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Mr Donaldson said: “Over 18 months ago we outlined the parameters for the way forward. We set our tests and those continue to be our yardstick for measuring any deal between the EU and UK.
“There will be no restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that unionists, as well as nationalists, can support. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be restored and our constitutional arrangements must be respected.
“We are seeking the restoration of democratic decision-making to the Assembly, replacing the democratic deficit created by the protocol.
“Why should anyone want to deny the people of Northern Ireland, through their democratically elected representatives, a say or a vote on vast swathes of the laws governing our economy and which affect the people of Northern Ireland so directly?”
[ ‘Not possible’ to make Northern Ireland protocol work - EU law expert ]
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that despite “positivity” around the EU-UK talks on the protocol, it is still in “the DUP’s hands” whether the Executive would return if a deal is struck.
“We know all the problems in the health service and the economy and everything else, and we’re desperately in need of local politicians to take responsibility,” Mr Eastwood said.
“I would also say, we won’t have a government unless the DUP make a decision. For me, if the DUP do get significant movement on some of their asks, as long as we can protect geo market access for businesses and our economy here, then Jeffrey [Donaldson] should be able to take yes for an answer.
“Hopefully, we can get a deal done and an Executive back up and running. But that’s in the DUP’s hands.” – PA