The DUP has been accused of showing disdain for the law after one of its ministers failed to participate in two cross-border political meetings.
The unionist party has vowed to boycott the structures of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), apart from engagements on health issues, as part of its protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
However, on Monday a judge in Belfast High Court, Mr Justice Scoffield, ruled the DUP position was unlawful.
Despite that judicial ruling, DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots did not participate in two planned virtual meetings with Irish ministerial counterparts on environmental issues on Friday.
Under Stormont rules, such meetings with the Irish Government cannot proceed without the participation of both a unionist and a nationalist minister from the Northern Ireland Executive.
The DUP has contended that it technically did not boycott Friday’s meetings, because it was not possible to formally schedule them after DUP First Minister Paul Givan refused to sign off on the agendas.
In line with the DUP’s pledged exemption to its position on the NSMC, a north-south meeting on health matters did take place on Thursday.
SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, who was also due to participate in Friday’s first meeting on marine issues, accused the DUP of “unacceptable and totally dishonest” behaviour.
She also questioned the point of the boycott, claiming the meeting on Thursday had been used to “rush through” a series of other NSMC issues that were not related to health.
“It is astounding following this week’s High Court ruling that (DUP leader) Jeffrey Donaldson is overseeing a deliberate and unlawful boycott of the north-south institutions,” she said.
“It shows not only disdain for the rule of law but utter contempt for the people we represent.
“It is also fundamentally dishonest – a wide range of NSMC business was rushed through a health sectoral format meeting this week. So what exactly is the point of this tactic? The DUP leader should at least be honest with people rather than marching them halfway up the hill.
“Today’s meeting was about co-operation on our marine environment. Less than a month out from Cop26, and while we face a climate emergency, it is an act of gross irresponsibility to frustrate cross-border co-operation on these important issues.
“The EU has made generous and flexible proposals aimed at addressing all of the legitimate concerns that the DUP has raised over the operation of the protocol. It’s time to end the strategy of boycott, division and deadlock. Our people deserve better than this.”
The NSMC is a construct of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and is designed to enhance political co-operation on the island of Ireland. The peace accord also includes structures to maintain and foster east-west relationships with the island and Great Britain.
The DUP argues that the north-south relationship cannot continue as normal when, it claims, the Northern Ireland Protocol and its associated economic barriers on Irish Sea trade have inflicted damage on east-west relations.