By Dominic McGrath and Cate McCurry, PA
The leader of the DUP has accused the Irish Government of being tone deaf and ignoring unionists concerns about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Jeffrey Donaldson said the protocol has left him being treated like a second class citizen in Northern Ireland.
He told the the UK House of Lords sub-committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol that Ministers in Dublin give “vague” answers to his concerns about the purpose of the protocol.
“There are some who argue that main purpose is to re-orientate the Northern Ireland economy away from Great Britain’s economy and develop an all-island economy, an economy that does not exist, and that you would bind the Northern Ireland economy more closely to the economy of the Republic,” Mr Donaldson said.
Congratulations Grahams bakery on winning this super contract. Exporting to other countries such as Republic of Ireland is great. I want to see this continue alongside trade within our biggest market – the United Kingdom. That why my constituents agree the protocol needs sorted. pic.twitter.com/xyy7SzYBd0
— Jeffrey Donaldson MP (@J_Donaldson_MP) June 7, 2022
“I’ve asked Irish Government ministers about this and they give vague answers. There is a difference between cross-Border trade and all island economy.”
The DUP has long opposed the Northern Ireland Protocol and is refusing to enter the powersharing institutions until issues with the post-Brexit settlement for the region are addressed.
Mr Donaldson also said he found comments made by Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier on Wednesday to be “deeply disappointing”.
Mr Martin said the UK government’s proposed legislation to deal with the protocol would be “to the benefit of absolutely no-one”.
The Taoiseach accused London of failing to engage with the EU to reach a negotiated settlement on changing aspects of the protocol’s operation.
“I listened to the comments from Micheál Martin and I found them deeply disappointing. They are tone deaf to concerns to unionists.
“They don’t get it and if they do they ignore it,” Mr Donaldson added.
“The concern is we cannot trade freely in our country and we are subject to laws of which we have no say.
“We were told Brexit would give us back control and in Northern Ireland we have laws of which we have no say, and are subject to taxation rules that the Treasury cannot control.
“As a unionist I find that wrong. I am being treated like a second class citizen in my own country, and it undermines the spirit and constitutional reality at the heart of the Belfast agreement. Unionists are entitled to have that balance respected.”
He said that the restoration of the Northern Ireland institutions can only happen on a cross-community consensus.
“If the Irish Government want to see the institutions restored, they are going to have to listen to unionist concerns.
“They don’t answer question as they don’t listen to our concerns,” he added.
“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 Agreement?”
He also welcomed British government plans to override parts of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. The UK government has said it intends to use domestic law to override parts of the protocol.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss announced plans to legislate last month and the Bill is expected to be published in the coming days.
He said the legislation needs to address friction in trade, and said he wants to see a return to pre-Brexit arrangements.
“Any goods remaining in Northern Ireland should not be subject to custom checks,” Mr Donaldson added.
He also said that it is “entirely possible” to find practical solutions to the protocol, adding that it is time to “stop playing political football with Northern Ireland”.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party leader said the proposed plans to override parts of the protocol amount to “agitator legislation”.
Doug Beattie told the sub-committee that while the UK government plan would have a “detrimental” impact on relations with the European Union in the short-term, it might drive both sides back to the negotiating table.
Mr Beattie is in London this week for a series of meetings to discuss the political stalemate in Northern Ireland.
Mr Beattie, who appeared before the committee on Wednesday afternoon, called it “agitator legislation”.
He said: “It will really have a detrimental effect on our relationship between Great Britain and the European Union.
“And we will get a response from the EU in regards to our legislation and then they will back off, and they will back off for two or three months, maybe until after the summer and there will be no negotiations.
“But what it will do is it will bring people back to the table after the summer, I would imagine.
“Because of the legislation that is coming forward, things are likely to get worse before they get better, but we believe they will get better if we keep engaging.”
He said negotiations should not have been allowed to pause ahead of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
The Ulster Unionist leader, who has been among the voices urging the DUP to return to powersharing, offered his backing for a more risk-based approach to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.