Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

08.53 19 Jun 2021


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Hundreds of loyalist protesters gathered in Co Down last night to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The rally in Newtownards heard calls for the DUP not to nominate a new First Minister until the Protocol is abandoned.

The issue is now threatening the power-sharing government in the North, which is already in disarray after the leader of the DUP resigned after just three weeks in the role.

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DUP members turned against Edwin Poots after he nominated Paul Givan to become First Minister there despite their protests.

Party members had wanted Mr Poots to hold off on putting a name forward, due to their anger over the British government agreeing to introduce an Irish Language Act in the North if Stormont failed to do so.

Unionists feel the post-Brexit policy is cutting them off from the rest of the UK.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast Weekends, Michael Nesbitt, MLA for Strangford and former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said that there is no reason why the Stormont executive shouldn't survive over the DUP crisis.

He told host Eamonn Torsney that there is a need for stability and cohesion in Government, particularly during a global pandemic.

northern ireland Protesters in Newtownards on Friday evening. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

"If we put ourselves in the position where we recognise there is a greater good above and beyond party political interests then I think we put ourselves in the mind frame of problem-solving and get on with solving these issues and governing for the people of Northern Ireland," Mr Nesbitt said.

"I think the big issue is this, when you go into an election you're close rivals competing for votes but when you're out the far side and votes have been cast and counted, you know you're going into a coalition government with four or five political parties around the table at Stormont castle.

"At that point, you should realise that you should cease to be rivals and become partners in government.

"The DUP and Sinn Féin have been in Stormont castle since 2007 and over those 14 years, I think it has become abundantly clear that they cannot work together.

"I do wonder why the electorate keep putting them in there when there are alternatives to a DUP/Sinn Féin led government which actually deliver an alternative that delivers government."

Mr Nesbitt added that while he wouldn't be pushing for an election to take place, he would accept one if it was put forward.

He questioned why loyalists would want to give more power to Westminister if Northern Ireland's government was temporality reverted to direct rule, and called this "counterintuitive".

Protesters gather in Co Down to oppose Northern Ireland Protocol

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In relation to Friday night's rally in Co Down, he said that people are entitled to protest on the streets if it is done in a "lawful and respectful way".

"I have to say to unionists who were out on the streets of Newtownards last night, what do you think you're going to achieve?" Mr Nesbitt questioned.

"I think if the [Northern Ireland Protocol] is going to go, it's going to go through a process of negotiation, and that negotiation has to be led by the British government and the European Union, I would like the Northern Ireland Executive to have a bit more skin in the game this time.

"I think one of the problems was it was done so quickly, on December 24th last, and implemented almost immediately and nobody had thought through the consequences.

"We're seeing some of the negative consequences now so the first step I think is to address and mitigate the worst excesses."

Main image: People take part in a loyalist rally in Newtownards, Co Down, against the Northern Ireland Protocol on Friday. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

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