Polls, polarisation and the Protocol: No election called and tension brews

The political limbo in Northern Ireland looks far from over.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, once adamant an election would be triggered if power sharing was not restored, kicked an announcement on a poll down the line.

All eyes are now on Westminster, as it is expected Chris Heaton-Harris will make a statement in the House of Commons about what happens next on Wednesday.

No changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol were made before a deadline for Stormont's restoration on 28 October.

That meant the DUP would not go back to the Executive and Assembly, legally obliging the secretary of state to call another vote.

A letter emerged from the Loyalist Communities Council to say that in the absence of an Executive, there would be "dire consequences" if joint British and Irish authority were to become the means of governance.

The Northern Ireland Office ruled that out as a possibility, and the PSNI swiftly called for calm.

Speaking to the Northern Ireland Policing Board about that LCC letter, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said that there are evidently “tensions and palpable frustration” within loyalism over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, he added that police do not foresee “imminent capacity and capability” of loyalists to carry out attacks.

Talk of a return to any form of violence is not something 20-year-old nationalist Karl Duncan, a politics student from Derry, expected to contemplate in his lifetime.

The Ulster University undergraduate, who supports the SDLP, said his generation "has seen nothing but government collapse and broken government", but should never see a departure from peace.

"I think people are rightly worried about where Northern Ireland is right now, but I don't think we will bow to any paramilitary threat," he told UTV.

"If there's one thing that I am really certain of, it's that I hold, and a lot of people like me, people in my generation, hold the gift of peace that we have been given very close to our hearts.

"There won't be any roll back as far as I'm concerned, as somebody who wants to stay in Northern Ireland and wants to make this place better.

"I think the answer to a lot of recent threats is to keep going, to keep building peace.

"That means pushing for more integration in education, more integration in our society, in the workplace, in the housing estates that you're living in..."

Joel Keys, 21, describes himself as a unionist and a loyalist, but says he is not currently associated with any party.

"I like to say I'm a nobody that people like to listen to sometimes," said Mr Keys, who has over 7,000 Twitter followers.

Mr Keys came under fire over a year ago after telling the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster that there are times when violence was justified.

He explained that this would be the case, for example, in a country where there is a dictator.

Now, he does not believe violence or threats are warranted to solve protocol problems, and wishes a solution was sought through political means only.

"It's frustrating because I don't agree with the protocol, but when you look at the anti-protocol movement, some of the loud voices I disagree with.

"It's not that I don't think that we have a good argument - I do - but if we genuinely believe we have a good argument, why then did we not go to our republican neighbours and nationalist neighbours and persuade?

"It seems like people are very much still in war mode, and it's 'we need to make them understand why we don't want this thing and why it's unacceptable.'"

He continued: "Me, I'm going, 'look, let's make what we have today work the best that we can, so we'll work with the protocol for now, but we disagree with it and we want it gone...

"So what we're going to do is lobby. We're going to go out to republicans and nationalists and make our case and listen to their case.

"Anti-protocol, I'm fine with loyalism being anti-protocol, I'm happy with it, but I don't like the way they're going about trying to change it."

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