Northern Ireland Protocol is the law and must be adhered to, says Sinn Fein

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George McMillan

By George McMillan

Published: 02/02/2022

- 20:01

Updated: 02/02/2022

- 20:01

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill branded Mr Poots’s actions a 'stunt'.

Sinn Fein has insisted the Northern Ireland Protocol is the law and it “must be adhered to”.

The party was reacting after Stormont’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots ordered a halt to Brexit agri-food checks at Northern Ireland ports.

Mr Poots, whose officials are responsible for carrying out Northern Ireland Protocol checks, said he had ordered his permanent secretary to stop them at midnight on Wednesday night, after he received legal advice.

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill branded Mr Poots’s actions a “stunt”.

She tweeted: “This stunt is an attempt by the DUP to unlawfully interfere with domestic and international law.”

Her party colleague John O’Dowd said that Mr Poots was “perfectly aware” of the Executive position over the protocol.

He said: “The protocol is the law.

“The DUP signed off at the Executive that they would adhere to the regulations within the protocol.

“I have a number of questions which require to be answered by Mr Poots. Where did he get this legal advice?

“Did he go to the Attorney General? Did he use Government legal advisers?

“The facts remain the same. The Executive has a position that they will adhere to the protocol, to the European Withdrawal Agreement, and the principle remains for all Executive ministers, you have to adhere to the law.”

Mr O’Dowd said he had no doubt civil servants would be “taking advice” over Edwin Poots’s decision to halt Northern Ireland Protocol checks.

He added: “We will do everything within our power to ensure that the Executive operates properly.

“The civil servants, I have no doubt, are already taking advice on these matters. The Civil Service has its own guidance and protocols to work to and I have no doubt the Civil Service will be examining that very closely.”

Alliance Party MLA John Blair said Edwin Poots and the DUP were “addicted to disruption”.

Mr Blair said: “There is a legal obligation upon the minister to provide checks at ports, this has been made perfectly clear to him by his own officials and through previous advice from Defra.

“Here we are again at a time of uncertainty and the minister is behaving like a wrecking ball, bringing more uncertainty to our sectors and creating disruption the best he can.

“It is completely unacceptable and unsuitable at this time.

“This is a time for working with others to find solutions.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted that people were tired of “grandstanding and instability” over the protocol and urged Mr Poots to “step up and do the job or step aside”.

TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed Mr Poots’s decision to halt port checks, but said the whole of the Northern Ireland Protocol now needed to be removed.

Mr Allister said: “Though we have had a year of allowing the protocol to bed in, it is welcome that he (Mr Poots) has come to the conclusion he has.

“Now the challenge is to bind together to make sure that the ill-gotten sovereignty of the EU over Northern Ireland is removed in its entirety.

“There is no place for Northern Ireland to be left subject to foreign laws, foreign institutions, foreign courts, foreign customs. It all has to go.

“The start that has been made tonight can only be the start. We need now to see the total dismantling and the unbedding of the protocol.”

The SDLP’s Brexit spokesman Matthew O’Toole said the decision raised questions over Mr Poots’s “judgment and fitness for public office”.

“If decisions are being made in government in an attempt to influence or manipulate internal party selection processes, that would be an egregious abuse of power” he said.

“Regardless of the motivation, this is a bad decision. It will not command the support of the Assembly or the Executive and it will be challenged.”

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