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Westminster ‘pushing disingenuous claim that protocol incompatible with GFA’

Simon Coveney (Rebecca Black/PA)
Simon Coveney (Rebecca Black/PA)

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister has accused the British Government of pushing a “disingenuous” and “dangerous” claim that the Northern Ireland Protocol is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement

Simon Coveney told the Irish parliament it is “deeply disappointing” that the Westminster Government plans to move forward with legislation to unilaterally override parts of the protocol.

He said that is against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which has embedded Northern Ireland’s peace process.

The Fine Gael minister said: “The British Government now claim that implementing the protocol, that we agreed together, is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement.

“This is disingenuous and it’s dangerous. I find it deeply disappointing that the British Government has said it intends to table legislation in the coming weeks that will unilaterally disapply elements of the protocol, which is now international law.

“This action is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, where genuine trust and partnership between both governments have time and time again proved crucial to share progress.

“As the protocol is an integral part of an international agreement, such action would amount to a serious violation of international law also.

“I’ve urged the British Government to reconsider, to weigh the risks that would flow from unilateral action, and to step back from this course of action as they have done previously.

“Unilateral action is contrary to the wishes of the majority of people and businesses in Northern Ireland.”

In a message to the unionist community, Mr Coveney said the EU has “consistently negotiated” with the British Government to address genuine concerns, and the ball is now in the UK’s court.

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced an intention to table legislation at Westminster that would override parts of the protocol without the approval of the EU.

It came amid a powersharing impasse at Stormont created by the DUP’s refusal to agree to form a new devolved executive after the recent Assembly election, until the so-called Irish Sea border is removed.

Liz Truss (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Coveney added: “The onus is on them to indicate if they will move away from unrealistic demands that they know the EU cannot deliver and focus on one issue of greatest concern to the people and businesses in Northern Ireland, which is the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and removing barriers to that trade.

“Without the British Government’s co-operation and willingness to try to make that work, it’s not going to work and the stand-off will continue.

“What I want to put on the record here that this Government, through my office and through others, are already working with the European Commission to try to ensure that we respond to legitimate concerns in Northern Ireland, particularly on this issue of making a significant differentiation between goods that we know are staying in Northern Ireland, being purchased and consumed there, from goods that are at risk of travelling on into the EU single market.

“We can, in my view, make a very significant step forward in meeting the demands of many in the unionist community who want to see unnecessary checks gone on goods that are staying within the United Kingdom. But again, without a partner it’s hard to find a way forward.”

During a debate on the protocol in the Dail, Sinn Fein TD Rose Conway-Walsh said most British people are “embarrassed and deeply concerned” about the implications for Britain’s global reputation after threats to override an international agreement.

“The mechanisms for dealing with any issues arising from the protocol is the joint committee, as we have said time and time again,” Ms Conway-Walsh said.

“Other issues can be dealt with in the same way. The truth is that the protocol is being used and abused by the DUP, ably abetted by the British Government, in an attempt to hold back the tide of equity and change within the north of Ireland.

“They just cannot accept the democratic outcome of the recent election. They cannot accept that the days of the sectarian mantra of ‘no nationalist need apply’ are over.”

Labour’s Brendan Howlin accused Westminster of exploiting the issue of the protocol.

He also told the Dail that the British Government is being abetted by the DUP for its own political purposes.

Earlier this month, Sinn Fein won the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the first time a nationalist party has claimed the largest number of seats.

“The electoral earthquake has been the growth and consolidation of the central ground around the Alliance Party, which more than doubled its seats from eight to 17,” Mr Howlin added.

“This has come at the expense of two seats from the DUP, but mostly gains made from other centre-ground parties – the SDLP, the UUP and the Greens, they all lost seats to the Alliance.

“We must consider what this will mean for the future of Northern Ireland. Hopefully, it will deliver a more progressive politics.”

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