Uncertainty over north-south meeting on environment

It is unclear whether the talks will take place amid a DUP boycott of north-south meetings in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Uncertainty over north-south meeting on environment

There is uncertainty over whether a north-south meeting on the environment and marine aquaculture will take place later this week.

Stormont’s Executive Committee heard that the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots has not confirmed if he will attend.

It comes as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) stages a boycott of north-south meetings in an act of protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Earlier this week a High Court judge in Belfast ruled the boycott in protest is unlawful.

On Tuesday, First Minister Paul Givan told the Assembly a planned north-south meeting on health on Thursday will go ahead.

On Wednesday, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the Stormont Executive Committee there has been no correspondence from Mr Poots, of the DUP, to advise on attendance to a north-south meeting on the environment on Friday.

Paul Given
First Minister Paul Givan said there is not an officially scheduled meeting on Friday (PA)

Appearing at the same committee, Mr Givan contended there is not an officially scheduled meeting on Friday.

“A scheduled meeting only becomes such whenever the Executive Office has signed off on that,” he said.

“There is no scheduled meeting by which Minister Poots has to attend until such a meeting becomes officially sanctioned by the Executive Office.”

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan told Mr Givan “the onus is on you to nominate another unionist minister if there is going to be a no-show from the DAERA minister… are you going to do that for the meeting on Friday?”.

Mr Givan said there is “not a no-show by the minister for agriculture because there isn’t a show unless the Executive Office agrees the agenda and the date and the attendee, it’s only at that point that I would need to nominate a replacement because a minister was unavailable”.

Michelle O'Neill
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged DUP ministers to ‘get on with doing their job and get back to business’ (PA)

Earlier in the meeting, Ms O’Neill welcomed the High Court ruling.

“I think that the inaction of the DUP to nominate ministers to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) not only undermines our politics and the fact that we have three component parts of our politics here, relationships in the north itself, within the Executive itself, our north-south relations and our east-west relations and all those things are interdependent, and one doesn’t work without the other,” she said.

“I welcomed the ruling by the courts this week, it shouldn’t have to be that way but I do welcome the ruling and I encourage the DUP ministers who have boycotted our NSMC meetings just to get on with doing their job and get back to business.”

She added that she hopes “progress” around Thursday’s meeting “marks an end to the DUP’s damaging and illegal boycott of the NSMC”.

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