Protocol Difficulties: North/South Discussions

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 14th September 2021.

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Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 2:30 pm, 14th September 2021

T1. Mrs Barton asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether there have been discussions at any recent North/South meetings about overcoming the many difficulties experienced in the agriculture industry since the introduction of the protocol. (AQT 1551/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

There have been discussions North/South and certainly many east-west. I have corresponded in writing and had telephone conversations with my colleagues in the UK Government on over 50 occasions, not to mention the dozens of meetings in which I have raised the issue and the difficulties caused by the protocol with them. I have also raised the issues with colleagues in the Irish Republic and indicated to them the damage that is being done to relationships as a consequence of their support for the protocol and, in particular, Leo Varadkar's bad behaviour when he showed photographs from the 1970s and said that that was what could happen in Northern Ireland. That was a disgraceful action. As a consequence, we have a European Union that argues that it is doing this to protect the peace process, when, in fact, its actions are damaging it.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Minister, your party leader has made it clear that you will not be participating in future North/South meetings. Will you clarify whether that includes the attendance of the DUP junior Minister, Gary Middleton, at the Specialised Committee meeting on the implementation of the protocol as part of the Joint Committee?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The party leader has made his statement, and the party leader will stand over the statement, as will the Ministers. That will cause problems, and we understand that. It will cause problems for other parties, because the basis of the agreement under which we are in here is that we engage in North/South meetings and in the North/South infrastructure. The decision has, however, been taken that we cannot have that normality of relationships North/South whilst we have that disturbance in east-west relationships. The Belfast Agreement was built on relationships across these islands, not just on this one island. It is therefore incumbent on us to reflect that in what we do and to make sure that we can get to a situation in which we are again ensuring that relationships across these islands are maintained in a constructive way.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Question 2 has been withdrawn.