T3. Mr McGlone asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, who is due shortly to take up an important role in which he wishes him all the best, whether, given the importance of North/South working and having emphasised the importance of the agri-food sector, which is a key element of it, he can confirm that he will not obstruct any further North/South meetings. (AQT 1353/17-22)
I am glad to hear that. Exports from the North to the Republic in 2017 amounted to £2·17 billion. Indeed, 600 million litres of milk traversed the border in 2015 for processing in creameries and other places. Does the Minister therefore accept that trade, business development and food safety promotion, which he mentioned could be at risk due to a race to the bottom in other trade deals, will be very important?
I consider our North/South relationships to be very important. That is why, as a Minister, I very quickly made the decision to open the radiotherapy centre in Altnagelvin Hospital, which provides cancer care for people on both sides of the border. That is why, when it became obvious that we could not carry on paediatric cardiac surgery in Northern Ireland because we were unable to have a surgical team in place, I came to an agreement to have it in Dublin. I remain totally committed to working on a North/South basis on issues that benefit the people in Northern Ireland who I represent. I will continue to do that, whether it is from within or outside the North/South bodies.
Relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have never been worse, however, because the Republic of Ireland, when it was led by Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney in particular, sought to create barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which is our main trading partner. As a consequence, every home is being damaged, and, on the Executive's papers, there are red boxes for health. We are in the red zone in every area of health, including for medical devices and medicines. We were put in that zone as a result of the protocol, which was very heavily driven by the former Taoiseach and Tánaiste. Relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are very bad, and they need to be fixed. In order to fix those relations, however, we need reassurances that we will get somewhere considerably better than where we are currently with the protocol.