Northern Ireland news

DUP minister attends north-south meeting after two no-shows

Economy Minister Diane Dodds. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA Wire
Suzanne McGonagle and PA

A DUP minister yesterday attended a north-south event after the party had allegedly boycotted two recent meetings.

Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds took part in the North South Trade and Business Development meeting.

It comes after the DUP were last week accused of two no-shows at north-south meetings due to their anger at the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Party leader Arlene Foster insisted it was "simply not the case" that the DUP was boycotting north-south political meetings.

She said no ministers from her party had been available to attend recent sectoral meetings on transport and on languages due to timing issues, and a lack of agreement on the agendas.

Mrs Dodds took part in yesterday's discussions, which also saw Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in attendance.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Murphy welcomed that it had taken place, adding that they "discussed important matters of mutual interest on all-island trade and business development".

"The previous two sectoral meetings regrettably did not occur since no DUP minister made themselves available to take part, so the fact that Diane Dodds did participate in today's meeting is welcome," he said.

"North-South co-operation between the Irish government and the Executive is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement, so any departure from these structures would not be acceptable to Sinn Féin."

It is understood no items involving the Northern Ireland Protocol were to be discussed.

Unionists and loyalists oppose the Protocol, claiming additional checks on goods places a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Other executive parties held a series of meetings on Monday to discuss two DUP no-shows at sectoral meetings of the North South Ministerial Council in recent weeks.

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald said: "Political progress, stability and inclusion relies on all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement working, and working well.

"The north-south piece is absolutely essential and that means that unionists of all hues have to participate in those meetings."

One accompanying minister from the opposing political view must attend North South Ministerial Council meetings to allow them to proceed.

In February, the DUP warned that north-south relationships will be "impacted" as part of its political campaign to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs post-Brexit trading arrangements on the Irish Sea.

The party also pledged to oppose all Protocol-related measures in the Assembly.

TUV leader Jim Allister accused the DUP of "buckling".

"Why is a unionist facilitating a meeting to discuss trade and business development on a north-south level when our east-west links in those areas have been trashed by the Protocol?" he said.

It comes amid speculation a recent board meeting of a cross-border body was cancelled after DUP members indicated they were unable to attend.

The Loughs Agency, set up under the Good Friday Agreement to provide "conservation, management, promotion and development of the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas", was due to meet on Tuesday.

But it is understood the meeting was cancelled due to DUP members being unable to attend.

A Loughs Agency spokeswoman said: "The most recent Loughs Agency Board meeting was cancelled because a quorum could not be achieved, which is six plus one from a group of 12 members.

"The next meeting is currently being scheduled."

The spokeswoman did not respond to questions in relation to the availability of DUP members for the meeting.

The DUP last night also did not respond to requests for a statement.

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