I am in regular contact with the First Minister, deputy First Minister, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and other political leaders in Northern Ireland on a range of issues. Most recently, on Monday 1 February, I jointly chaired a 'quad' meeting with the Minister of State for Northern Ireland Robin Walker, First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann, as part of our ongoing engagement and cooperation on Covid-19. I will continue to engage regularly with counterparts in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain as we move forward on these and other important issues.
The decision by the European Commission last Friday to enact Article 16 of the Protocol was a mistake. It should not have happened. As the Deputy will be aware, it was in the context of a commercial dispute with Astra Zeneca over vaccines; this is an entirely separate issue to the operation of the Protocol. The Government intervened at the highest levels as soon as we became aware of the issue. We welcome the fact that the Commission immediately reversed the decision. Ireland is engaging with the Commission to ensure this does not happen again.
I, and officials in my Department, will continue to engage closely with counterparts and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including in the business community, on issues related to implementation of the Protocol and Brexit more generally. The Government will continue to support the work of the EU and the British Government to try to find agreed solutions for some of the challenges, in line with the Protocol itself and the approach agreed by the UK and EU on implementation only six weeks ago.
We have consistently said that we want the Protocol to work for Northern Ireland, and for the island as a whole, in as smooth a manner as possible. What is required now is calm, measured and pragmatic engagement to ensure smooth implementation of the Protocol.