Northern Ireland

Lack of cross-community consent in assembly thwarts automatic adoption of EU laws

Unionist and nationalists are split on whether to adopt EU geographical indicator regulations

Opposition leader Matthew O'Toole. PICTURE: DAVID YOUNG/PA

New EU laws giving protection to goods of specific geographical origin will not yet apply in Northern Ireland after they failed to gain the support of both nationalists and unionists.

The DUP brought a motion on Tuesday using one of the democratic consent processes in the Windsor Framework which sought to block the introduction of EU regulations relating to geographical indicators (GIs) for craft and industrial products.

It was the first time since the institutions were restored last month that the mechanism known as an applicability motion has been used.

DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley said the vote was a significant moment for the NI Assembly
DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

The motion, which the DUP wished to see defeated, was backed by a majority of MLAs but under Stormont’s voting rules failed to gain cross-community support.

Sinn Féin, Alliance and the SDLP all supported the motion but unionists voted against it, meaning the new law will not automatically apply.

It will instead be for the British government to decide whether to introduce or block the regulations.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, one of the motion’s four sponsors, claimed the new laws would restrict trade between Britain and the north.

He said the first time the assembly was able to vote on the adoption of EU law was “in itself is a significant moment”

“We are not willing to contemplate a situation in which political forces, whether it be in Dublin or Brussels, can use the silence of the assembly on this, or indeed any other piece of EU law, to exert pressure on the government in Westminster to abandon the principle of cross-community consensus,” the Upper Bann MLA said.

Opposition leader Matthew O'Toole. PICTURE: DAVID YOUNG/PA

However, Sinn Féin’s Philip McGuigan dubbed the debate a “sham fight” and argued that the focus should be on attracting investors.

“What we should be doing today is building on the success of that trip, talking up our potential and giving our young people hope,” he said.

“Instead, we have this motion. In effect a sham fight which only serves the purpose of undermining the good work of last week and which could sow confusion to potential investors to the north.”

Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood claimed the debate was about “internal DUP wranglings”.

“We already have short enough time as it is, I don’t want to be spending the next two and half to three years relitigating Brexit,” she said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said his party’s MLA would be voting against the motion because the new EU law had not been given proper scrutiny.

He said the long-term implications of the new regulations were not known because there had been no scrutiny by MLAs.

Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole said the motion “in the end, had nothing to do with protecting local craft producers seeking to grow their businesses, instead it was a political kneejerk response to pressure from hardline unionism...”