Northern Irish loyalists allegedly planned a terror attack in the Republic of Ireland in response to heightened tensions over post-Brexit trading arrangements. They called off the attack just hours before it was due to be carried out, after the UK ruled out Northern Ireland being jointly administered by London and Dublin if the Stormont Assembly could not be restored. This came after the DUP refused to return to power-sharing until issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol were fixed.
Rather than return to direct rule from Westminster, Sinn Fein called for “joint authority” – calling for the Irish government to have more involvement in Northern Irish affairs.
Loyalist groups, such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), as well as mainstream unionist groups were infuriated by the proposal.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, the UVF and UDA are currently reviewing their ceasefires – which were put in place in 1994 at the end of the troups – amid heightened tensions over the Irish Sea border treaty, which is meant to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement.
Last week, loyalist leaders met in the County Antrim area. The paper said that attendees of the meeting were “angry and militant” with a source present saying: “There were no hawks and doves, everyone is a hawk now.”
Northern Ireland Assembly members returned to Stormont in a last-ditch attempt to restore the country’s executive in order to avert an election – but the DUP refused to restore power-sharing with Sinn Fein in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK Government had set a deadline of last week for a Government to be formed in Stormont, after which time they would be forced to call an election.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris failed to set a date for a new election when the deadline past last Friday, leaving a question mark over the issue.
Sinn Fein has said the Mr Heaton Harris has provided “no clarity” on whether or not he will call a snap Stormont Assembly election.
Speaking after their meeting, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said she remains “none the wiser” as to whether the Secretary of State will call an election.
She said: “We’ve asked him a number of questions, but I have to say (he) provided no clarity, he provided no further information as to the U-turn.
“We’re left with no information in terms of what happens next, or at least what he intends to do next.
“It’s very clear he has a legal obligation in which to call an election if an Executive is not formed.
“But he did not colour in the lines today. He certainly did not provide any clarity around what he intends to do next, apart from to say that he’s here to meet with people.”
Ms O’Neill said it was unacceptable that the public has been “left in limbo” and accused the British government of “pandering to the DUP”.
Speaking from Stormont last week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the party does “not believe that sufficient progress has been made to addressing the issues of concern to the people that we represent.”
He called on Mr Sunak’s Government to take “decisive action” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.