DUP says no return to Northern Ireland executive until 'long shadow' of protocol is resolved
The leader of the DUP has said he will not lead his party back into power sharing until issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.
It comes as Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said that the DUP and British Government must accept and respect the democratic result of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the "long shadow" of the Northern Ireland Protocol is casting its mark over politics in the region.
Speaking at a press conference with his new MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) team at Stormont, Sir Jeffrey said: "We want to see this place up and running as soon as possible.
"We want stable devolved government. We are committed to our participation in those institutions."
However, he said that his party's position had not changed.
"We need decisive action by the government to address the difficulties created by the protocol," he said.
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"Whether that is driving up the cost of living, whether that is the harm that it is doing to businesses and our economy, or indeed in undermining political stability in Northern Ireland.
"The protocol needs to be dealt with."
He added: "We sought a mandate from people to adopt the stance that we have taken and we will continue, as we recognise others also have a democratic mandate [and] we want to work with them to deliver stable government for Northern Ireland.
"But the long shadow of the protocol is casting its mark over this place."
The latest comments from the DUP leader suggest that the prospects of any quick return of the devolved power sharing executive at Stormont are diminishing.
MLAs returned to parliament buildings on Monday and party leaders were also holding separate meetings with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.
Thursday's historic election saw Sinn Fein become Stormont's largest party.
But any attempts to form a government - which must include a first minister and deputy first minister from Republican and Unionist parties under the Good Friday Agreement - still have to be resolved.
Speaking to the media on Monday, its vice president Michelle O'Neill said: "The people have spoken and they have spoken very clearly.
"The message is one of hope, it is also one of optimism for the future, for the political leaders to work together and to make politics work.
"That is my commitment as a political leader and as an incoming first minister.
"The electorate also demands that the parties get back down to business, to elect a speaker, to sit in the assembly, to have it function, to appoint a first minister and a deputy first minister, to form a new executive.
"As democrats, the DUP, but also the British Government, must accept and respect the democratic outcome of this election.
"Brinkmanship will not be tolerated where the north of Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission.
"Responsibility for finding solutions to the protocol lie with Boris Johnson and the EU.
"But make no mistake, we and our business community here will not be held to ransom."
On Saturday, Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, became the first nationalist party to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in its 101-year history.