The Irish government’s support for the Brexit deal is “harming” Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
ir Jeffrey made the comments directly before his first meeting with Taoiseach Micheal Martin since he became leader.
Afterwards he said that they had a “frank and open discussion” about the Northern Ireland Protocol among other issues.
Speaking in Dublin on Friday, he said: “I made clear to the Taoiseach that unionist concerns are growing and certainly not diminishing in relation to the harm that the Protocol is doing to our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, the harm it is doing to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and, indeed, very importantly, the political harm the protocol is causing, and has the potential to cause, as we move into the autumn and towards an Assembly election.”
He said the harm to the east/west relationship may have consequences for the north/south relationship in Ireland. “Unionists cannot reasonably be expected to work as normal on a north/south basis when our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom is being harmed on a daily basis by this protocol,” he said.
“That is simply the reality of the political situation that we face.
“I don’t want to see a political crisis in Northern Ireland, I don’t want to see the political institutions being harmed, I want to see a Northern Ireland where we move towards a more united community, but the protocol is harming our capacity to build that united community,” he said.
Sir Jeffrey said he also discussed issues around the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past with the Taoiseach.
Referencing proposals by the UK Government to stop further prosecutions over historic crimes, Sir Jeffrey said he was keen to ascertain the Irish Government’s position in terms of deaths in its jurisdiction or terrorists operating from there.
“This is not a situation where the Irish government is a mere spectator, an observer. They are an active participant in this process and we need to hear from the Irish government what their proposals are for dealing with the legacy of our troubled past, and specifically in relation to cases where either murders were carried out in this jurisdiction or from this jurisdiction.”
Mr Martin said the pair had an “open, honest discussion” but called for flexibility from the UK Government.
“I acknowledge that the concerns of the unionist community are sincere, but I indicated as well that the mechanisms are there in the UK-EU trade agreement to resolve these issues and the issues around the protocol.
“Our sense has been that the EU Commission has been flexible and ready to respond to the situation. We do need to see similar flexibility from the UK Government side,” he said.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by the UK and EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
It has created a new trade border in the Irish Sea, which is strongly opposed by unionists in Northern Ireland.