An open letter to Boris Johnson
Dear Prime Minister.
Welcome to Belfast. You may not be a daily reader of The Irish News but it is important that you should be aware of the firm position taken by the largest newspaper in this region over the protocol debate and the related wider concerns of the majority of Irish people, north and south.
The Democratic Unionist Party, after losing last week's Assembly election, is preventing the establishment of a new executive in which Sinn Féin is due to take the first minister's role.
Many difficult issues have arisen since devolved powers were first transferred to Stormont as a result of the historic compromises involved in 1998 Good Friday Agreement, under the supervision of first and deputy first ministers who hold equal status.
The symbolic value of the first minister's post is entitled to go to the largest party, which until last week was always unionist, with no objection at any time from nationalist or other representatives, although separate and serious matters have occasionally suspended the administration.
DUP members have retained the top office since 2007, but, even before the outcome of last week's poll, declined to accept that they were prepared to tolerate a nationalist first minister.
When the verdict of the electorate left Sinn Féin as the largest party, the DUP vetoed the appointment of Michelle O'Neill as first minister for reasons which included its claim that the protocol endangered the Good Friday Agreement - a measure which it had resolutely opposed despite overwhelming approval by referendums in both the north and south of Ireland
You will be well aware that the protocol was a central part of the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union which you negotiated and then signed in 2020, so it is disturbing to find strong indications that, at an extremely sensitive period, you are considering siding with the DUP, and introducing new Westminster legislation which reneges on an international treaty, instead of standing by the majority partnership at Stormont which favours progressive solutions
We live in a divided society in which our readers are drawn from both main traditions and elsewhere, but are largely constitutional nationalists who wish to reach a peaceful and lasting accommodation with their friends and neighbours from all backgrounds.
The protocol is part of this process, and is a logical and carefully constructed initiative with massive international backing which recognises all the complexities surrounding the only land border between the EU and the UK.
It was an inevitable outcome of Brexit, for which both you and the DUP campaigned, and you will recall that, in October, 2019, you told the House of Commons that the protocol was `a good arrangement…with the minimum possible bureaucratic consequences.’
You have plainly changed your view but you surely cannot dispute that the present dispute involves your government and the European Commission, and cannot be resolved at Stormont under any circumstances.
The protocol remains open to amendment and there can be no justification for suspending the work of the executive while negotiations are under way.
It was particularly alarming to hear you justify your stance last month by suggesting that the protocol does not command the support of a `large component' of our population, so it is essential that you should note the balance of the new Assembly.
The figures are clear and demonstrate that a decisive 53/37 majority of MLAs endorse the protocol, and also wish to immediately implement vital steps which will address a major crisis over our health service as well as preventing severe economic hardship for our entire community.
We offer you the columns of The Irish News to explain where you differ with our case and we implore you not take any actions in the crucial coming days which will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the lives of all our citizens.