Northern Ireland news

DUP accused of 'deliberate fudging' after uncertainty over reasons for NSMC meeting no show

Lord Dodds said the DUP would refuse to engage with the NSMC if it 'implements or reinforces' the protocol. Picture by Michael Cooper/PA Wire

THE DUP has been accused of "deliberate fudging" after the party appeared uncertain about the reasons for its minister's failure to attend last Friday's North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting.

The DUP faced widespread criticism for the no show, which party leader Arlene Foster said was because there "wasn't anyone available" for the meeting involving Stormont Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and the Republic's Transport Minister Eamon Ryan.

It also emerged that a NSMC languages meeting was cancelled on March 31 because a unionist minister was not in attendance.

Mrs Foster insisted failure to attend Friday's meeting was not related to the five-point plan launched by the DUP in February in which the party said it would be stopping north-south activities related to the protocol.

Yesterday, Lord Nigel Dodds said the DUP would continue its refusal to engage with the NSMC if it "implements or reinforces" the Irish Sea border.

"I can't comment on the specific details why a minister wasn't available other than the junior minister who was due to go was not available, and the agenda hadn't been agreed, something which was known before the meeting was purported to take place," the former North Belfast MP said on BBC's Sunday Politics.

"Our position on the north-south issue is clear – we set it out in a five-point plan, which was designed to deal with the disruption and delay in relation to strand one and strand three [of the Good Friday Agreement] issue, east-west issues which haven't been mentioned so far."

Lord Dodds, whose wife and Economy Minister Diane Dodds is scheduled to take part in a NSMC meeting this week, said the protocol was damaging "consumers and businesses alike".

"Our position is very open – as far as normal business, like Covid, other issues to the benefit of Northern Ireland, of course we'll engage. That has always been our approach."

When it was highlighted that the recent meetings the DUP had missed dealt with transport and languages rather than the protocol, Lord Dodds said the party was adhering to its "five-point plan".

"There are many meetings at which people are not available, the agenda needs to be agreed and the minister [Mallon] knew that well before Friday," he said.

"The fact of the matter is that we set out our position very clearly, in relation to the protocol issue, and on other areas of matters of co-operation on common sense, then that will proceed."

Lord Dodds would not be drawn on whether Mrs Dodds would be attending this week's meeting with her southern counterpart.

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is due to join another scheduled NSMC on this day next week.

Last night, Ms Mallon told The Irish News she had had "enough of the DUP's deliberate fudging".

"If this is part of a deliberate escalation of their attempts to obstruct north-south cooperation, they should come clean and say so," she said.

The SDLP minister said the NMSC meetings were a "critical part of the Good Friday Agreement and essential executive business".

"The DUP don't get to dictate and they don't get to pick and choose what parts of the GFA they implement," she said.

"Rather than escalate tensions, we all need to be working in the substantial common interests of all our communities."

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