A Sinn Féin Minister is seeking legal advice after the latest DUP no-show at a cross-border political meeting.
Stormont Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey said non engagement in the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting is a “serious failure” to comply with Stormont’s ministerial code.
It comes after DUP Munior Minister Gary Middleton did not log on for a virtual sectoral NSMC meeting on languages with Ms Hargey and Minister for State Jack Chambers on Friday.
Under Stormont rules, any Northern Ireland Executive meeting with the Irish Government must involve both a nationalist and an accompanying unionist Minister. If one does not show the meeting cannot proceed.
Last month, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson announced his party would be boycotting north-south meetings as part of its ongoing campaign of protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Donaldson said his party would only continue cross-border co-operation on health issues.
The DUP contends that the north-south relationship cannot continue as normal when, it claims, the protocol and its associated economic barriers on Irish Sea trade has inflicted damage on east-west relations.
On Wednesday, an NSMC meeting on agriculture did not go ahead because Stormont's Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots would not attend.
SDLP Minister for Infastructure Nichola Mallon, who was also due to participate in that meeting, has called on the UK and Irish governments to intervene on the DUP boycott.
While Wednesday’s meeting was postponed in advance, it is understood Friday’s languages meeting was ready to commence, with Ms Hargey and Mr Chambers online, but it could not proceed due to Mr Middleton’s absence.
Ms Hargey said the DUP cannot “cherry-pick” what institutions of the Good Friday Agreement it participates in.
“Regrettably the meeting was cancelled shortly after it was due to begin this morning,” she said.
“I consider this inaction by Minister Gary Middleton and the Executive Office to be a serious failure to comply with the law and the Ministerial code which require ministers to participate in meetings of the NSMC.
“Therefore I am seeking legal advice on challenging the DUP inaction through the courts.
“We must be clear that when the political institutions were restored through the New Decade, New Approach agreement last January, it was all of the institutions, not some.
“The DUP cannot cherry-pick and through inaction and obstruction hamper Government business on behalf of the public we all serve and represent.”
People want political leaders working together to change our society for the better. The DUP boycott of North South meetings is preventing cooperation and benefits no one.
SDLP Deputy Leader @NicholaMallon has written to the British and Irish governments to intervene. pic.twitter.com/NJiwbf4OsM
— Social Democratic and Labour Party (@SDLPlive) September 30, 2021
Explaining the DUP position, Mr Donaldson said: “I want respectful north-south relations. I want us to work on matters of mutual concern, but the protocol is the roadblock.”
“It has polluted every part of society. It is costing us £850 million per year by placing a border between us and our most important trading partners in the rest of the UK,” he added.
“Our ministers have put a stop to the north-south structures because we need to bring the Irish Sea border to a head.
“We cannot have a border between us and Great Britain but continue with north-south structures as though there is no problem.
“The simple way to resolve this matter is for nationalist and republican ministers to recognise that the Irish Sea border is contrary to the Belfast Agreement.
“Rather than calling for rigorous implementation, SF, SDLP and Alliance ministers should join us in calling for London and Brussels to remove the Irish Sea border.
“The protocol has harmed Northern Ireland’s place in the union, and is driving up consumer costs and driving down consumer choice.”
Mr Donaldson also accused Sinn Féin of “hypocrisy”, highlighting that north-south meetings did not happen for three years after the republican party collapsed power-sharing in 2017.