The fact that a meeting has simply taken place as planned is rarely newsworthy in itself.

But a virtual get-together yesterday afternoon wasn't just your average meeting.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was in the chair hosting a discussion about trade and business with Northern Ireland's Economy Minister Diane Dodds of the DUP and the Finance Minister, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy.

It was one of an ongoing series of North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings involving ministers from the Stormont Executive and Irish Government established as part of what's called Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement.

Meetings can only take place if a unionist and nationalist minister from the Northern Ireland Assembly take part.

On two previous occasions this month, north-south ministerial meetings were cancelled shortly before they were due to begin because the DUP said its minister was not available.

The first was a scheduled meeting to discuss the Irish language and Ulster-Scots involving Stormont Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey of Sinn Féin, one of two junior ministers, the DUP's Gordon Lyons, and Minister for Culture Catherine Martin.

The second, which was due to have taken place last week, was to discuss transport issues.

It was to have involved Transport Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Stormont ministers Nichola Mallon of the SDLP and, once again, Gordon Lyons of the DUP.

The non-attendance of the DUP minister meant the discussions could not take place, and led to accusations from critics that the party was deliberating undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

There was also nervousness within the Irish Government that the cancellations signalled a policy of disengagement by the DUP.

The NSMC is viewed as an important platform for improving relations, laying the foundation stones for cooperation on a range of issues, and taking the sting out of cross border political debate.

In a virtual speech to mark Fianna Fáil's annual 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill on Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke of the importance of the agreement.

He said not enough has been done in the 23 years since it was signed "to build essential links, to create new opportunities and to show people how much we can achieve through cooperation."

The NSMC is also a key part of the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement itself and disengagement would have put further pressure on the increasingly fragile power-sharing Executive.

Paragraph 13 states that: "It is understood that the North/South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot successfully function without the other".

On a visit to Stormont for a series of meetings with other Executive parties on Tuesday to discuss the DUP's non-appearances, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP could not "cherry pick" the agreement.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the DUP of "childish behaviour". Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long described its behaviour as "simply unacceptable".

Loyalist critics of the Northern Ireland Protocol have urged the DUP to sever all cross-border ties and to end participation in all north-south bodies.

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster strongly rejects claims that her party is engaged in a policy of boycott as part of its campaign against the Protocol. In February it warned that north-south relations would be impacted as part of that campaign.

The party argues that the creation of the Irish Sea border has weakened east-west links and relations, and as a result undermines and threatens Northern Ireland's constitutional position in the UK. For as long as that is the case, it says north-south relations cannot continue at the same level.

"Just to be clear, the Northern Ireland Protocol is not part of the North-South Ministerial Council," she told the Stormont Assembly on Tuesday.

"As we have outlined some weeks ago, north-south relationships will of course be affected by the fact that the Protocol is in place because it has damaged east-west relationships and we need to sort it out."

Ms Foster went on to insist that her party would "act in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland and in accordance with all of our ministerial responsibilities and indeed the pledge of office as we have indicated."

So all eyes were on yesterday's scheduled meeting. If it had not taken place because Diane Dodds was declared unavailable, the levels of criticism within the Stormont Executive and concern in Dublin would have escalated.

The fact that it did take place will ease those concerns.

Afterwards, a Stormont Executive source said the agenda included Covid-19 cooperation, corporate governance and business research and development, but no discussion about Protocol-related issues.

In a statement, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy welcomed the fact that the meeting had taken place and said there had been a discussion of "important matters of mutual interest on all-island trade and business development."

He added: "North-South cooperation between the Irish Government and the Executive is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement, so any departure from these structures would not be acceptable to Sinn Féin."

But while there will have been a sighs of relief in the offices of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs, there will also be concern that this may not be the end of the matter.

The next scheduled council meeting is next Wednesday.

It is due to be chaired by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, with the Stormont Executive represented by his counterpart, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots of the DUP, and Nichola Mallon of the SDLP.

Edwin Poots is a man who's not afraid to rock the boat and has made his opposition to all things Protocol very clear in recent months.

At one point he ordered his officials to stop work on new permanent customs posts at Northern Ireland's ports. He also withdrew his department's inspection staff from duties at Belfast and Larne because of alleged threats. The police later said there was no evidence of any credible threat.

Whether that meeting takes place or not, the focus will then switch to June. That's when the next full plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, involving all ministers in Dublin and Stormont, is due to take place.

There are two plenary sessions each year, with the hosting duties rotating. The Taoiseach is due to be the host for the next one, but a DUP no-show would make it impossible for it to take place.

It would heighten the sense of political instability and fragility, with Northern Ireland's annual marching season on the horizon, as well as the prospect of further loyalist protests and possible violence on the streets.

If the meeting doesn't take place, unionist and loyalist opponents of the Protocol would likely argue that such a move would simply be a response to, and a mirror image of, the weakening of the east-west relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Quid pro quo.

The move would provoke a flurry of activity between Dublin and London with the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs strongly encouraging the British government to apply whatever pressure it could to the DUP in its role as joint guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

Arlene Foster’s party has had many issues with Boris Johnson of late, and has good grounds for questioning any commitments he might give, but finds itself relying on him to help fight its corner in the battle against the Protocol. That gives him a strong hand in this game of Protocol poker.

The DUP insists the political temperature has been increased by those responsible for the Protocol and that it is simply trying to right what it says is a grievous wrong.

As the summer approaches, there seems little prospect at this stage of the temperature cooling.