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UK Government set to publish deal which will set stage for Stormont return

31 Jan 2024 5 minute read
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill arriving at the Grand Central Hotel, Belfast, where Tanaiste Micheal Martin is holding series of meetings with Northern Ireland political leaders. Photo Niall Carson/PA Wire

The UK Government is due to publish the details of its deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which sets the stage for the return of the Stormont powersharing institutions.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has already said that the agreement will remove all post-Brexit checks on goods destined for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The unionist party has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for almost two years in protest at the post-Brexit arrangements that have created trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, Sir Jeffrey announced earlier this week that his party was prepared to return to Stormont, dependent on the UK Government implementing the various legislative assurances and other measures it has offered.

This is expected to lead to the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland within days and will see Michelle O’Neill become the region’s first ever nationalist first minister.

The Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin will take part in a round of talks with Northern Ireland’s main political parties and business leaders in Belfast on Wednesday.

‘Leadership’

Speaking ahead of the meetings, Mr Martin said the Irish Government has “no issue” with streamlining and ensuring a seamless passage of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Martin also paid tribute to Sir Jeffrey, praising him for his “leadership”, saying he has opened a path to a functioning Executive and Assembly.

“We’ll await the publication of the documents today by the British Government,” Mr Martin added.

“I think it would be prudent to examine those and we will do that. The British Government and the European Union have worked hard to address many of the practical concerns about the outworking of Brexit and Northern Ireland.

“We need to move forward for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland in terms of economy, in terms of jobs, in terms of public services.”

He added: “But my sense is that the (EU) Commission’s main concern is the single market, not necessarily the transfer of goods between GB and Ireland.

“So my view is that the Commission all along, has been cooperative and constructive in endeavouring to get a resolution to all of these issues, so that people can get about their daily lives in a less constrained way.”

Checks

He also referred to the changes that will come into effect from today, which will see goods exporting from Ireland to Britain being subjected to checks for the first time under Brexit rules.

“All of this has been about really trying to manage what was the fundamental change in over 50 years, and the impact on Northern Ireland has been significant,” Mr Martin added.

It is understood the Government will introduce two statutory instruments at Westminster to give legislative effect to the commitments it has made on trade and sovereignty.

The return of Stormont will also see the Treasury release a £3.3 billion package to support under-pressure public services in Northern Ireland. The financial package includes money to settle the demands of striking public sector workers in the region this year.

Speaking on Tuesday, following meetings with other Stormont parties, Sir Jeffrey said the deal would represent a “significant change” in addressing unionist concerns over Brexit’s so-called Irish Sea border.

He said: “On checks, on goods, moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and staying within the UK there will no longer by physical checks, identity checks, save where, as is normal in any part of the UK, there is a suspicion of smuggling, of criminal activity; that is the same for every part of the United Kingdom.

“On customs paperwork, customs declarations, supplementary declarations, will be gone.”

Sinn Fein has focused on the imminent return of the Stormont Assembly, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald stating that Irish unity is now within “touching distance” as she hailed the significance of her party assuming the role of Stormont first minister for the first time.

Ms McDonald said the expected appointment of her party colleague Michelle O’Neill into the job in the coming days would be a moment of “very great significance”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he would publish the Government’s proposals on Wednesday.

He added: “I believe that all the conditions are now in place for the assembly to return.”

Sir Jeffrey announced his support for a Stormont return after receiving the “decisive” backing of the 130-strong party executive during a five-hour meeting on Monday night.

He said DUP party officers, a key 12-strong decision-making body, had also “mandated” him to move forward on the basis he was proposing.

Support for the deal is not unanimous within the DUP and several senior figures remain opposed to the proposed agreement to restore powersharing.


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