Data he quoted is from report DUP minister commissioned and not open to scrutiny
Questions have been raised about cost of living statistics quoted by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during a TV debate after it emerged they were from a report commissioned for a DUP-led Stormont department — and not available to the public.
It comes after he made claims around rising food costs during the live BBC leaders’ debate on Tuesday night.
Mr Donaldson claimed increasing food costs here were a “direct results of the NI Protocol”, quoting data from a private report commissioned by the Department for the Economy.
Mr Donaldson said: “As a direct result of the increased cost in bringing food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland due to the protocol, consumers in Northern Ireland are now paying on average 4% more per item than they are in Great Britain at the moment.
“When you look at dairy products, that rises to 8%, and when you look at chilled convenience goods, it rises to 19% more for those products. That’s the protocol.”
The DUP leader said his source for the figures was the Kantar GB panel average price tracker and Kantar NI panel average price tracker.
When asked if the report states the price rises are directly linked to the Brexit protocol, Mr Donaldson told the BBC: “Yes, it demonstrates that the additional costs are linked to the increase in extra customs checks, delays in transporting goods, additional paperwork and additional staff that have to be employed.”
When contacted for confirmation of the figures and whether the rise in costs are directly related to the protocol, data analytics firm Kantar said the data referenced was from a report it produced for the Department for the Economy at Stormont.
“While Kantar did do this research, it was commissioned by a specific client (in this case the government) and the data therefore belongs to them,” it told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It is not publicly available, and unfortunately we are not authorised to share it through the press office.”
Responding to Mr Donaldson’s claims, Alliance economy spokesman Stewart Dickson said: “When you are the leader of a party, it is vitally important that when you give the public information it should be accurate and fact-checkable.
“Clearly, it’s proved not to be reliable information that he has given.
“I think in order for people to understand what Mr Donaldson was saying, it’s vitally important for the Department for the Economy to release all of that information so that it’s in the public domain and people can make up their own minds as whether to believe him or whether they’d prefer to believe others who contradicted the so-called facts he gave [on Tuesday night].”
SDLP economy spokesman Matthew O’Toole said: “That the data being used by Jeffrey Donaldson to back up his questionable claims around the protocol’s impact on Northern Ireland came via research commissioned through the DUP’s own Department for the Economy raises serious questions around what this research actually says and how it found itself into Mr Donaldson’s hands.
“The cost of living crisis is placing unimaginable pressures on families across Northern Ireland.
“But there are a number of reasons for the soaring cost of food, fuel and energy bills.
“Mr Donaldson’s attempts to lay the blame solely at the feet of the protocol is disingenuous at best and does nothing to help families heat their homes or put food on the table.
“People in Northern Ireland have been clear that they want to explore the benefits of the protocol and after this election we need to turn our attentions to resolving the small number of outstanding issues around it and moving on.
“Families here want politicians to tackle the issues that are impacting their daily lives — not endless talking around the protocol.”
Leading economist and former Ulster Unionist MLA Esmond Birnie said: “I think at this stage it’s probably almost impossible to quantify how big the protocol’s effect is [on food prices].
“I think it’s likely to be substantial, but probably not as big as all of the other factors that are affecting inflation at the moment — the impact of high energy prices, the war in Ukraine.
“From a Northern Ireland point of view, a lot of the inflation that we are experiencing, it’s imported from the world-level.
“Therefore it’s something that we can’t do much about. We can’t do much with the global price of wheat, sunflower oil or gas.
“Is there a likelihood that the protocol contributes towards cost of living difficulties? As an economist, I would say undoubtedly there’s a contribution. However, there are many other factors contributing to this crisis at the moment.”
The Department for the Economy was unable to say whether the Kantar report was publicly available and if it could be released to the Belfast Telegraph.
The department was also unable to answer whether points made by Mr Donaldson were correct — specifically regarding food cost percentages.
And it was unable to confirm if the Kantar study Mr Donaldson referenced had been commissioned by the Department for the Economy.
It also did not answer when asked if the report was circulated among, and available to, all MLAs/MPs and election candidates.
Outgoing Economy Minister Gordon Lyons was contacted for a comment.