Stormont stalemate continues one year on as protocol issues remain unresolved

Friday marks one year since Paul Givan stepped down as First Minister and brought down the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland.

Just 365 days on and a recent poll for the Belfast Telegraph suggests that support for the Good Friday Agreement among unionists is at an all-time low.

The DUP left the executive due to its concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol - a trade agreement made between the UK and EU during Brexit negotiations. It has resulted in checks being carried out on certain goods travelling from GB to NI.

The man who resigned over the protocol told UTV's View from Stormont: "These institutions only work whenever unionists and nationalists are able to buy into these institutions.

"That isn't the case with unionism, that's why the Good Friday Agreement has lost further support from within the unionist community," former First Minister Paul Givan added.

"What we have witnessed, not just over the past year but over the past number of years, has been the isolation of unionism, attempts to work around the DUP, with Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the SDLP, all regarding unionists as an obstacle and a barrier."

The same LucidTalk poll, however, does say that the majority in Northern Ireland believe the DUP should return to Stormont, regardless of what happens with the protocol.

Sinn Féin's John Finucane said the protocol provides Northern Ireland with enormous potential "to really develop this part of the island", and to "grow the all-island economy".

Mr Finucane added that the DUP needs to "stop being the blockage to a health minister taking decisions that need to be made, for a finance minster to finally get a budget agreed so that all of our departments can have the resources to tackle the problems that are on their desk".

The north Belfast MP said he believed a solution is there, but that "the solution is there in the confines of the protocol itself".

There was speculation at the beginning of this week that a deal had been agreed over customs between the UK and EU. Although this was quickly shut down by leaders on all sides.

Alliance MLA Eóin Tennyson is hopeful there will be a "manageable and workable solution, brought forward by the UK and the EU".

He is however wary that a deal may not satisfy the DUP's seven tests for returning to power sharing.

He explained that he believes the DUP can either continue their current course of assembly boycott or take "a pragmatic, realistic approach and accept that the borders and barriers introduced by Brexit have to be managed in a special arrangement for Northern Ireland".

Meanwhile SDLP deputy leader Matthew O'Toole said he's open to making the processes streamlined, but by "critically protecting the benefits of the protocol, which far, far outweigh any of the draw backs in terms of economic opportunity".

He was, however, adamant that if the DUP pursued a boycott in the eventuality of a UK-EU deal then "there will be more fundamental questions that people will start to ask, not just about how this place works... but about the long term future of this jurisdiction".

TUV leader Jim Allister, whose party strongly opposes the protocol, doesn't believe the ongoing negotiations between the UK and EU can deliver.

Mr Allister said no unionist could accept a protocol which "partitions the United Kingdom, which operates on the basis that GB is a foreign country".

He continued: "Unless and until the sovereignty issue is addressed, then I see no prospect for Stormont, nor should there be".

If the DUP do not agree to any protocol deal then a return to direct rule might be the only option. UUP MLA John Stewart doesn't think that would be the answer to unblocking the deadlock.

"The idea that we would give up Stormont and the executive and a functioning government here... and hand it back to Westminster, the very government that implemented the protocol and would probably implement it in its entirety, seems to me completely ludicrous."

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