David Young, PA
The UK government's threats and “incendiary language” over the Northern Ireland Protocol is contributing to recent street disorder in the North, Stormont’s deputy First Minister has warned.
Michelle O’Neill said there was a need for the UK government, and her DUP partners in Stormont, to “dial down the rhetoric” over the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
She was commenting after a virtual meeting with Britain's Brexit minister Lord Frost and amid ongoing speculation that the UK government is preparing to unilaterally suspend the protocol governing Irish Sea trade between Britain and the North.
Two buses have been hijacked and burned out in loyalist areas in the North this month in incidents linked to protocol opposition.
Police were also attacked in clashes at a community interface in west Belfast involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road/Lanark Way on two nights last week.
Ms O’Neill said Lord Frost did not confirm to her that the UK government would definitely suspend the protocol, by triggering Article 16 of the mechanism.
However, she linked the repeated threats to trigger a suspension as a factor in heightening tensions that have seen the outbreaks of disorder.
“I’ve made it very clear to him that it’s time to dial down the rhetoric, that the wider community here want solutions, they want to make the protocol work, they want us to iron out the issues that need to be resolved, but they certainly don’t want to see the spill out of the language, the incendiary language actually from the British government and the DUP, that’s now spilling out on to our streets and we now see street disorder – none of us want that,” said Ms O’Neill.
“So we need to do everything in our power to stop it. So I’ve asked them to dial it down, I have warned them against the language they’re using, I have also asked them to remove the threat to trigger Article 16 because that’s not what the majority of parties here want, what the wider business community want.
“What we need to find is solutions and stability, certainly not another period of instability, uncertainty, and all that that brings with it.”
Asked if Lord Frost had confirmed the UK government would trigger Article 16, Ms O’Neill said: “I think it’s unfortunate that they continue to repeat their mantra that Article 16 conditions have been met.
“It’s my assessment from the conversation today – however, I caveat everything I say with the fact that this is David Frost, the man that negotiated the protocol and who’s now trying to renegotiate the protocol – but his statement today was clearly in the line of that talks are going to continue, that they want to find solutions and that they don’t want to trigger Article 16.
“However, again, I caveat that with the fact that this is the man that actually negotiated in the first place.”