The former DUP speaker of the Stormont Assembly said: "It would be foolish to disregard the current political situation in Northern Ireland as we debate this Bill. The current situation, brought about by the Northern Ireland protocol arrangements, is deeply regrettable.
"The protocol lacks cross-community support and fundamentally undermines the core principles which underpin the democratic structures in Northern Ireland. That makes it impossible for power sharing to operate on the basis of cross-community consensus.
"We have even had Tony Blair in the last few days saying very clearly that the protocol was a bad deal which is undermining the Belfast agreement and peace in Northern Ireland. In the last few days, the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has said much the same words. They are very much architects of the Good Friday agreement and are saying very clearly that the protocol is now causing serious damage to the Belfast agreement."
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The DUP grandee was speaking during the second reading of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill in the British House of Lords.
He was referring to 'Fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol: A Way Forward', a report by Mr. Blair's Institute for Global Change, authored by researcher Anton Spisak.
In a foreword, Mr. Blair wrote: "If left unresolved, the issues at the heart of the protocol have the capability of causing an enlarged trade conflict between the UK and the EU, or undermining the GFA – and quite possibly both."
The erstwhile Derry mayor, who takes the title Lord Hay of Ballyore as a cross-bench peer in Westminster's upper house, criticised the Identity and Language (NI) Bill, which has been referred to by some as Irish language legislation.
"In respect of the Bill before the House, I criticise the Government for introducing the Bill before dealing with the concerns about the current operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The New Decade, New Approach agreement of 2020 was entered into in good faith.
"But it was a package that was agreed. The introduction of a Bill that cherry picks one element of the agreement while ignoring the commitment to protecting Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market from the carnage of the protocol is both ill-judged and imbalanced. It totally undermines devolution in Northern Ireland.
"We have seen over and over again with one party’s wish-list that, if it does not get it through Stormont or the Executive, it brings it here. Usually, the Government do what needs to be done to get whatever has to be got through this House and the other.
"That creates a problem for devolution in Northern Ireland and how it can be delivered, not only in the future, but also for all the people of Northern Ireland. There has also been no attempt to build consensus towards this Bill at a time when confidence in the Government and devolution has been eroded to the point of being on life support," he said.
The senior DUP figure claimed that the potential cost implications of the legislation had not been fully analysed.
"On the whole issue of funding which I have alluded to, we do not know the cost of all of this. At the minute, the Irish language gets about £170 million a year from the Executive. You would nearly think the way some people are talking they were getting nothing. Is that figure going to increase? Quite obviously it is going to increase. The Bill is silent on funding.
"Another issue in the Bill is that the Secretary of State will take powers so that, if he feels that a Minister or a department is not doing what they should do, he can intervene. Once again, to me that undermines devolution in Northern Ireland.
"I will leave it there. I want to say to the House: do not underestimate the situation in trying to get the Assembly up and running. It will be a very difficult job to get it up and running if the protocol and the issues around it are not resolved," he stated.