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It is “inevitable” that Stormont will collapse if issues around the Protocol are not resolved, Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan has said.
Mr Givan said that while he is committed to devolution and wants the Assembly to work, the current situation is not “a tenable position”.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly threatened to bring down Stormont unless the so-called Irish Sea border is removed.
Mr Givan said he understood that some people objected to those tactics, but insisted they are aimed at delivering sustainable institutions in Northern Ireland.
“I do want the institutions to be able to keep running, to focus on those issues that matter to everybody.
“But I also accept that for any institution to operate effectively, its foundations need to be right, and at the moment, they’re not” he told BBC Talkback.
“That does create real challenges for the sustainability of what we’re trying to do at Stormont, because it requires collective buy-in from everyone in the community. And at the moment, it doesn’t have that.
“People can argue, well, the Protocol is a result of Brexit and Brexit was wrong.
“The reality that we need to face is, how do we make it work now?
“How do we get unionists and nationalists to be bought into Stormont and delivering for people?
“That has been the success of the past, where everybody has felt they can be part of this process.
“At the moment broad swathes of unionism don’t feel that and that’s not a tenable position.
“I do want it to work, but it does need to be on a solid foundation.”
Mr Givan insisted the DUP’s aim is to secure an outcome that “works for everybody”.
“Jeffrey will say regularly, he wants devolution to work” he said.
“We’re trying to make progress. We’re trying to – our focus is on getting an outcome, which works for everybody.
“Our tactics that we use to achieve that, I understand some people will disagree with.
“But we’re focused on getting an end objective where unionists and nationalists can buy in to Stormont and those institutions delivering for people.”
The Protocol has prevented a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, but introduced new trade barriers in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
While the EU has given concessions on its operation, notably to ease the flow of medicines from Britain into the UK, these have not satisfied many who oppose it.
Mr Givan said the arrangement is not sustainable because it does not have the support of the unionist community.
He said: “I’ve always been committed to devolution, because I think we are better at identifying the issues and the needs of our communities.
“I can do that with all the political representatives from the other parties, work collectively in the executive to do that, and on a huge number of issues, we get common ground.
“Then we can step out together with a united purpose, trying to address those issues together.
“I think Stormont is the best place to do that. I think London is too remote and therefore we’re better making our politics work.
“But the protocol has upset that balance, in terms of a constitutional change without having got the consent of the public to do it.
“Therefore we need to address that.”
Mr Givan said he was conscious of the difficulty of restoring the institutions once they are collapsed.
The last time powersharing collapsed, in 2017, it was not restored for three years, in 2020.
“I know that in collapsing institutions, they’re a lot harder to put back together again. We’ve been there before.
“These are conversations we have had, that whenever things go down, they’re very difficult to get back up again.
“But they’re not sustainable in their current form either. I think there is an inevitability about these institutions not being able to work if we don’t address the Protocol issues.
“Because it doesn’t have the support of the Unionist community to do that.
“So the timing of when action needs to be taken, that will be something that the party will continue to look at.”