DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of using unhelpful “megaphone diplomacy” over Northern Ireland while negotiations continue to restore the Stormont Assembly.
Sir Jeffrey, whose party is continuing its blockade of the devolved institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements, said that “unlike the Taoiseach” he has a mandate for his position.
Earlier this year the UK and EU agreed the Windsor Framework as an attempt to resolve post-Brexit trading frictions caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
However, the DUP is seeking further political and trading assurances from the Westminster government before it commits to any restoration of Stormont.
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During a visit to Belfast this week, Mr Varadkar said progress to restore Stormont was moving at a “snail’s pace” and said that alternative arrangements may need to be considered.
The Taoiseach also defended comments he made that he believed there will be a united Ireland in his lifetime.
Sir Jeffrey joined other Northern Ireland political leaders at a major investment summit taking place in Belfast.
He said: “My advice to the Taoiseach is very clear. His interventions recently have not been helpful. He is planning for failure, I am not.
“He talks about a Plan B, I am focused on Plan A, which is getting this right for the people of Northern Ireland.
“Unlike the Taoiseach, I have a mandate from the people to do this, to pursue the solutions that we need, and then we’ll get the institutions up and running.
“This megaphone diplomacy by Leo Varadkar is not helpful and I think he should reflect on the harm he is doing.”
Sir Jeffrey also responded to comments from Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who said this week that the DUP is being pressurised by a small number of unelected unionist hardliners to stay out of Stormont.
He said: “My party doesn’t give way to pressure, whether it is from the minister or anyone else.
“We have been consistent in our position, that has not changed. We have outlined our position to the Government on numerous occasions.
“We are engaged with the Government on an ongoing basis to resolve the issues that have given rise to the problems for Northern Ireland.
“I have been dealing this week, indeed this morning, with a local business having major problems getting goods into Northern Ireland, stopped at customs, even though those goods were manufactured in Great Britain and are for sale exclusively in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “I live in the real world, I recognise the problems that we have, the challenges that we face and I am looking for solutions.”
The DUP leader said progress had been made in identifying outstanding issues during negotiations with the UK Government, but added that solutions had not yet been found.
However, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said Sir Jeffrey would have to face down his critics if he wanted to lead his party back into the Stormont assembly.
She said: “I think there are those in the broad unionist family who do not want the DUP to go back into government.
“How much that is influencing the DUP in terms of their decision-making I can’t judge, but there is certainly something which is keeping them out of government right now.
“At the end of the day, there will always be a spectrum of views and Jeffrey will eventually have to face down critics if he wants to lead his party back into the Assembly.
“I just hope that he has the drive and the determination to do that, and to do it quickly because things are getting pretty serious at this point.
“I just don’t think it is sustainable for much longer.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill again called on the DUP to end its blockade of Stormont.
She said: “They need to get into the executive with the rest of us and take these opportunities that we have.
“There is tremendous opportunity here.
“We have to capitalise on access to both markets (UK and EU).
“We have an attentive international audience.
“These opportunities shouldn’t be missed.”