In a dog whistle to civil servants, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has effectively urged the unelected officials to launch a constitutional coup by defying the pending lawful direction of Minister Poots to halt the ongoing implementation of the Union-subjugating Protocol.
The significance of O’Neill’s comments can not be underestimated. She has invited civil servants, particularly those of a nationalist perspective, to defy democratically elected Ministers in order to use the machinery of the civil service to advance nationalism’s objectives in relation to the imposition of an economic United Ireland.
Notwithstanding the legal barriers which stand in the way of such a constitutional coup in the form of Article 4 (1) of the Departments (NI) Order 1999, there is also significant concerns for democracy and the rule of law itself.
We already witnessed in July 2021 how nationalist Ministers (Mallon and Hargey) combined together, without any acceptance as to the constitutional limits imposed upon their Ministerial powers by virtue of s28A of the 1998 Act, and sought to weaponise the PSNI to act in a manner advantageous to nationalism’s political objectives.
It is clear that nationalism is increasingly seeking to weaponise not only the status of professional vocations, but the very machinery of Governance itself in the form of the civil service, to advance their political cause.
That is an incredibly dangerous development and has the potential to create significant political and societal instability. There is already justified and deeply held feelings within unionist and loyalist communities in relation to the undemocratic imposition of the Union-subjugating Protocol, in defiance of the principle of consent and with the additional disapplication of cross community protections.
To add into already incendiary mix of societal difficulties the suggestion that civil servants would mobilise at the behest of nationalists, and stage a constitutional coup against a democratically elected unionist Minister, is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Sinn Fein need to dial down the rhetoric.
Unionism is reasonably and responsibly seeking to uphold the rule of law and the Belfast Agreement (which we were led to believe had the status of a holy writ), in all its parts. In addition, Minister Poots is seeking to comply with his legal obligations by acting in accordance not only with the clear requirements of s28A of the 1998 Act, but also with the Protocol itself which requires protecting the Belfast Agreement.
It is increasingly concerning that nationalism are demanding the shredding of the rule of law and crucial constitutional cross community protections, alongside trying to mobilise those sympathetic to nationalism within the civil service to stage a constitutional coup.
This irresponsible and reckless behaviour demonstrates the destructive and regressive nationalist agenda.
Unionism and Minister Poots specifically must adhere to the legal obligations set out within the NI Act 1998, and as such ensure a paper is urgently brought to the attention of the Executive in compliance with s28A (5) of the Act. In the absence of obtaining authority to continue checks, then faithful adherence to the rule of law requires a Ministerial direction that all Protocol implementation under the auspices of DAERA must be brought to an end.