Collapse of Stormont to influence NI protocol negotiations ‘futile’, minister says

Collapse Of Stormont To Influence Ni Protocol Negotiations ‘Futile’, Minister Says Collapse Of Stormont To Influence Ni Protocol Negotiations ‘Futile’, Minister Says
The Stormont Finance Minister criticised the situation as ‘frustrating’. Photo: PA
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By Rebecca Black, PA

The collapse of the Stormont Executive in a bid to influence negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol is “futile”, the North's Finance Minister has said.

Paul Givan resigned as First Minister earlier this year in protest at the lack of movement around unionist calls for concerns around the protocol to be addressed.

His resignation also forced deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from the shared office and has stopped the Executive from being able to function fully.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will not re-enter the Executive until the UK government has addressed their concerns.

Graffiti reading ‘No Irish Sea border’ in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Unionists regard the protocol, which creates a trade barrier in the Irish Sea to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, as undermining Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.


However, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy described the DUP’s actions as “futile”.

Addressing the Northern Ireland Affairs committee on Tuesday, Mr Murphy described the situation as frustrating, claiming it has blocked the passing of the first multi-year budget for many years.

He told MPs that there had effectively been a two-year mandate following the resumption of the Executive in January 2020, after his party’s then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned, effectively collapsing the Executive for three years.

Mr Murphy said that even with all of the challenges of the pandemic, and working as a five-party coalition, the Executive had managed to work together and deliver significant support to businesses, to health and across the community.

Michelle O’Neill with Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Rebecca Black/PA)

“There was a recognition that the Executive has been functioning as well as could be expected with all of the challenges politically,” he said.

Mr Murphy said businesses were experiencing a significant level of uncertainty because of the protracted nature of the negotiations around the protocol and said there are issues that need to be fixed.

“Undoubtedly it needed some fine-tuning and tweaking, and those were matters which could clearly be resolved between British government and the EU,” he said.

“So for the Executive to be brought down on the basis of trying to influence those discussions when clearly it is not a matter that the Executive has any authority over … to add to the uncertainty for businesses particularly at a time when after many years we had the potential for a three-year budget, which while it didn’t give us the full funding envelope we would have liked, nonetheless it did give us the opportunity to plan over the three years, it gives us the opportunity to fix some of the issues in relation to health.


“There was a real opportunity to use that three years to plan and to deliver … and that’s now been lost to us.

“And it’s been lost, in my opinion, in a futile way because the absence of an Executive is not having an impact on the protocol negotiations and it’s only harming the people that we represent collectively here and it’s damaging the capabilities of departments to plan for the future and to give that level of certainty in terms of support to a whole range of sectors.

“It really is a frustrating development and I think that a lot of the good work that the Executive did manage to achieve over the past few years has been undone because now as we go into an election, we have been effectively left hamstrung in terms of an ability to take decisions and we do have funding which is available … we were able to get a significant level of carry over because some late funding came at the end of last year.

“£300 million would be available to us now to try and tackle some of the cost of living issues that are facing a lot of families, communities and businesses but we can’t allocate that funding until such times as an Executive is in place, so that adds to that frustration.”

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