The DUP has rejected claims it is whipping up tensions over Irish Sea trade in an effort to get Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol ditched.
Party leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said it was “absolutely ridiculous” to suggest her party was inflating concerns around trade disruption to pursue a political objective.
Physical inspections on goods entering the North from Britain have been suspended amid threats and intimidation of staff.
On Tuesday, the DUP announced a series of political moves aimed at frustrating the operation of the protocol, insisting it undermines the North's place within the UK.
The party plans to oppose any protocol-related legislation at the Assembly and refusing to participate in any exchanges with the Irish Government related to the operation of the protocol.
Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Michelle O’Neill, has accused the DUP of reckless behaviour, claiming political unionism was trying to whip up “tension and fear”.
Fianna Fáíl MEP Barry Andrews accused the DUP of “catastrophising” the protocol and its outworking.
“I am absolutely astounded by this allegation that I am trying to raise tensions, when I am simply representing the interests of the people of Northern Ireland,” Ms Foster told BBC Radio Ulster today.
Ms O’Neill told the same station: “I think the position adopted by the DUP is reckless and I think it’s not driven by the best interests of the people in the north and I would urge them to pull back from that position.”
She said much of the trade disruption witnessed since the protocol came into operation on December 31st was as an “inevitable consequence” of Brexit.
Ms O’Neill said there were issues with the protocol but insisted the focus should be on resolving those, rather than scrapping the arrangements designed to avoid a return of a hard border in Ireland.
“The DUP needs to step back from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, what we need to do is be calm, be steady and work our way through these issues,” she said.
Earlier, Fianna Fáil MEP Mr Andrews said: “I think the DUP are catastrophising and whipping up divisions in circumstances where there are enormous opportunities for Northern Ireland.”
The exchanges unfolded ahead of talks between the EU, UK and Nothern Ireland leaders regarding the protocol which are due to take place later today.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith said the protocol would be here to stay, but that significant issues need to be addressed.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, he said Ireland had been “really helpful” following the row over Article 16 last Friday, but that there needed to be a much more strategic relationship between the EU and the UK.
Mr Smith acknowledged that there were “significant tensions” amongst unionists and businesses in Northern Ireland. The priority now needed to be conversations that could “evolve” to ensure that checks were kept to a minimum.
Speaking this morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said issues over the protocol needed to be addressed, but insisted the mechanism was here to stay.
“When you have a significant minority of politicians now saying they will not actively co-operate with the protocol, then that poses real difficulties,” he told RTÉ.
“Those who are calling for the doing away of the protocol entirely, I think, are completely unrealistic.” – Addtional reporting: Vivienne Clarke