Leading article

Protocol has majority support

When the 2017 Assembly election resulted in the dramatic loss of a unionist majority at Stormont for the first time in the history of the state, there were suggestions in some quarters that the position was still capable of being reversed.

A number of unionists argued that sympathy over the terminal illness of Sinn Féin vice president Martin McGuinness and anger over the notorious crocodile comment from the then DUP leader Arlene Foster had disproportionately increased the nationalist turnout.

The unionists hoped they could engineer a revival on a scale which might even allow the protocol to be cancelled through a crucial Assembly vote due in 2024.

They were given a firm answer when the final outcome of the 2022 poll confirmed that unionists are in a minority at Parliament Buildings and appear destined to remain there on a long term basis.

It will be noted that the overall unionist and nationalist designations are almost equal, with unionists still marginally ahead but Alliance having risen significantly enough to hold the balance of power and take third place in the standings.

Alliance of course strongly supports the protocol, meaning that the measure has the backing of a decisive total of MLAs and any attempt by Boris Johnson to drop it would be profoundly undemocratic.

It is designed to protect a community which rejected Brexit from the political and financial disasters which could easily have followed, and those unionists who campaigned enthusiastically to leave the EU without thinking through the consequences should accept their responsibility for the inevitable emergence of the present structures.

The idea that the protocol must be ditched before a new executive can be formed is ludicrous, and the EU and the British government are perfectly capable of producing enough minor adjustments to facilitate a return to the executive by a much weakened DUP.

As we noted on Saturday, a new era has arrived in which Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill has an overwhelming mandate to hold the first minister's post in partnership with the DUP.

It was not encouraging to hear Jeffrey Donaldson on Saturday declining to clarify whether he is even prepared to take up his new seat at Stormont.

If his party instead insists on blocking all progress on a range of vital issues over health and the economy, he must be aware that the vacuum will be filled by the debate on a border poll.

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