The decision of Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister to halt the construction of port inspection facilities was a “performance stunt”, a Sinn Fein MP has said.
Chris Hazzard said that Gordon Lyons did not have the authority to stop work at the sites.
On Friday, the DUP minister stopped construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Great Britain.
He also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff for the port facilities and said charges would not be levied at the ports on traders bringing goods from GB into Northern Ireland.
Previously, when the former DAERA Minister took a similar stance, his Permanent Secretary took forward the Executives responsibilities. The Protocol is a consequence of Brexit. The DUP championed Brexit & must own the consequences. Business and society need certainty, not stunts.— Michelle OâNeill (@moneillsf) February 26, 2021
Ongoing Irish Sea trade checks, which are taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities, will continue.
Mr Hazzard, Sinn Fein’s Brexit spokesman, also claimed that none of the Executive ministers were given advanced warning of the decision.
The move relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities at ports like Belfast and Larne.
Mr Hazzard said that Mr Lyons’ decision to brief the media before telling his political colleagues painted a “very pathetic picture”.
It's a stunt that's inevitably going to deliver nothing but prolonged instability and uncertainty.Chris Hazzard
“I think this was a very foolish solo run from Gordon Lyons,” Mr Hazzard told BBC The View programme.
“It’s a stunt that’s inevitably going to deliver nothing but prolonged instability, and uncertainty that is certain to damage confidence in our local economy.”
Mr Hazzard said the decision will harm the Northern Ireland economy.
He added: “The DUP needs to be honest with the public and stop playing games. They are being led by the nose by (TUV leader) Jim Allister and they basically walked off the pitch, and allowed others to be the sensible adults in the room.”
The MP for South Down said the DUP were attempting to paint the protocol as the problem.
The issue is expected to be raised when the Executive meets on Monday to discuss the plan to ease Northern Ireland out of lockdown.
Mr Lyons told the PA news agency on Friday evening: “I’ve just let Executive colleagues know that today I instructed my department to halt work on a range of issues relating to work at the ports.
I've submitted an urgent oral question tomorrow on the decision by the DUP @daera_ni minister to halt construction at ports.— Matthew O'Toole (@MatthewOToole2) February 28, 2021
No official statement yet, no executive meeting called and no legal clarity.
We need answers. pic.twitter.com/ZEpMCxnFyK
“This is in and around a number of areas, first of all further infrastructure, any further infrastructure builds; the additional recruitment of staff; and also the charging at the ports.”
The decisions come amid the ongoing controversy over disruption caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs Irish Sea trade post-Brexit.
Unionists are angry at the protocol’s requirement for checks on many goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
They claim it has driven an economic wedge between the region and Great Britain, and has undermined the Union as a result.