Across the political spectrum, the British government is being accused of ignoring the north of Ireland amid another bout of political turmoil in London.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said the north of Ireland has been “thrown under the bus”, while Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill condemned what she said was the “paralysis” preventing progress.
Wilson, the East Antrim MP and DUP Brexit spokesman (pictured), said that there is “no movement” on the issue of Brexit, the issue which has stalemated northern politics for years.
His party is refusing to take part in the Stormont Assembly until its shifting demands for changes to the Brexit trade deal are met.
Wilson said previous promises on Brexit were “just forgotten” after the recently sacked former British Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, this week made a series of allegations against PM Rishi Sunak.
In a long and angry letter that accused the Tory leader of “betrayal”, she accused him of having “manifestly and repeatedly failed to deliver” on key issues – including unionist demands on Brexit.
However, in a highly dramatic week in British politics, there was not much interest in Braverman’s angry departure and none at all for its implications for the North of Ireland. Journalists had already been left baffled after she bizarrely used Orange Order parades as a point of comparison when referring to pro-Palestinian protests as “hate marches”.
The disengagement of the political classes in London had already been confirmed when the north of Ireland was not mentioned in the King’s Speech, a traditional summary of British governmental policy plans delivered by Prince Charles.
And despite a major shuffle of the Tory cabinet this week, the current British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris and his colleague Steve Baker remain in place, despite increasing criticism here over their increasing apathy.
In a rare appearance following recent flooding in County Down, Heaton-Harris was described as fleeing Downpatrick “like a thief in the night”, according to local Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard.
Affected homeowners and shopkeepers in the town were left infuriated by the head of the colonial administration, with one describing him as a “snake in the grass” after he failed to speak to a number of traders during his quick-stop photoshoot, while another said “he has as much interest in outer Mongolia”.
But political stalemate is driving support for Irish unity. According to a recent poll, it is converting supporters of the cross-community Allliance Party into nationalists.
More than half of Alliance voters say that if the assembly and executive remain dormant, it would encourage them to believe a united Ireland would be a better option, according to the Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool survey.
And even a quarter of Ulster Unionist voters believe Stormont’s continued suspension will result in greater consideration of constitutional change, according to the poll.
The election in May 2022 of Michelle O’Neill as Six County First Minister remains the main reason why the DUP is seeking to avoid a return of Stormont, which would require to it face up to the implications of increasing nationalist influence over Six County politics.
The “old Orange state” with its Protestant and unionist majority is “a thing of the past”, Ms O’Neill told her party’s Ard Fheis (annual conference) at the weekend.
She said the results of last year’s Assembly elections must be “respected” as she criticised the DUP and called for the restoration of powersharing in Belfast.
She said: “The nationalist community in the north, historically marginalised and discriminated against, has achieved what was once thought impossible.
“The old Orange state with its entrenched unionist majority is now long gone.”
Ms O’Neill said if she were to be First Minister in a functioning Executive ,she would aim to represent the “whole community” with a commitment to inclusive governance.
She said she would “never treat others the way our communities were treated in the past”.
Ms O’Neill said: “I am determined to continue to demonstrate my commitment to representing and showing respect to every section of our society.”
Speaking to hundreds of party members at a university campus in Athlone, County Westmeath, the party’s vice-president said there was a need to “get back on track” following the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
She said: “It’s vital to recognise the urgency of the situation, with the democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement in a state of paralysis.
“The DUP has had more than enough time to address their concerns regarding the Brexit Protocol.
“Public patience has run out. It is now time to see the assembly and executive restored.”