Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said the decision to halt Northern Ireland Protocol checks would be a “breach of international law”.
Stormont’s Agriculture Minister has ordered a halt to agri-food checks at ports in Northern Ireland.
DUP minister Edwin Poots, whose officials are responsible for carrying out Northern Ireland Protocol checks, said on Wednesday evening that he had ordered his permanent secretary to stop them at midnight.
Speaking in the upper house of the Irish parliament, Mr Coveney reacted to the announcement.
He said: “If a political decision is taken by a minister in Northern Ireland to stop all checks in ports on goods coming across the Irish Sea, coming into Northern Ireland, that is effectively a breach of international law.
“And I would remind everybody that the protocol is part of an international agreement.
“It was agreed and ratified by the UK and the EU. And its implementation is not only part of an international treaty, but it is part of international law.
“And so to deliberately frustrate obligations under that treaty I think would be a very serious matter indeed.
“It’s essentially playing politics with legal obligations. And I certainly hope that it doesn’t happen, as has been threatened.”
While he did not name Mr Poots or the DUP, Mr Coveney said he suspected the move was “far more about politics than it is an effort to try and find compromise”.
He told the Seanad: “We should also put on the record that the protocol was designed and conceived and agreed to protect the Good Friday Agreement at the time, in the context of the fallout on this island of Brexit, and all its dimensions fully recognise the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Coveney said that talks were continuing between the EU and the UK to solve the row over the protocol.
“So I would encourage those in positions of responsibility in decision-making to continue to allow the negotiations to continue between the British Government and the European Commission.
“To make an intervention like the one that has been suggested will happen at midnight tonight is really unhelpful in that process.
“And I suspect is far more about politics than it is an effort to try and find compromise, middle-ground positions and agreement through flexibility and pragmatism.
“But I think let’s wait and see what happens later on this evening.”
Asked about the decision to halt the checks, an Irish Government spokesperson said: “The protocol is part of an international agreement agreed and ratified by the UK and EU to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions.
“The UK has an obligation under international law, and domestic law to give proper effect to the terms of the protocol.
“The Commission proposals directly address concerns raised by people in Northern Ireland, including significantly reducing checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and giving Northern Ireland a greater say in the protocol.”
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond also tweeted: “Disappointing, unsurprising but ultimately very damaging move.
“This helps no-one.”