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As the political turmoil in Northern Ireland continues, the divided Democratic Unionist Party looks set to install its third leader in six weeks

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As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the expected new leader will face the same issues as his two predecessors suggesting that the coming months will be fraught with challenges that could mark the end of unionist dominance in the region.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Parliament which sat for the first time in Belfast City Hall on 22 June 1921.

The centenary should be an occasion of celebration for pro-British unionists who, 100 years ago, persuaded British PM David Lloyd George to give them their own parliament for the six mainly protestant counties of Northern Ireland while still remaining in the UK.

The mainly catholic 26-county Irish Free State would be given its own parliament in Dublin and dominion status within the British Empire.

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However instead of jumping up and down for joy this week that NI still has its own parliament 100 years on and is ruled, in the main, by the Government in London, unionists are at war, none more so than the dominant right-wing Democratic Unionist Party!

As one DUP voter in the mainly protestant town of Ballymena, once home to the Party’s founder Reverend Ian Paisley, told BBC NI last week in a vox pop, “they’re a shambles.”

The disgruntled interviewee was referring to the sensational development last week when DUP Leader and religious zealot Edwin Poots was forced to resign from his position after only 21 days in the job!

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Poots, who organised a coup to remove his predecessor Arlene Foster after she abstained on a vote to ban gay conversion therapy, said upon obtaining the leadership that he would listen to the concerns of party members and conduct business by democratic means!

However, as the high noon deadline was approaching to appoint DUP colleague Paul Givan to the position of First Minister, Poots agreed to a last-minute deal with London that would see the Conservative Government introduce a Cultural Act if the Northern Ireland Assembly had not legislated for it by the end of September.

The Act, amongst other things, would see the provision of a Commissioner, budgets, personnel and promotion for the Irish Language, a development that has angered DUP members who see it as another incremental step towards a united Ireland.

To make matters worse for Poots, the decision reached with the London Government and agreed with his approval, had not been approved with the DUP executive and when they called for a special meeting on Thursday June 18th, the Party Leader and his chosen First Minister Paul Givan, walked out before contributions from the elected representatives were completed.

Seen as going back on his promise to ‘listen’ to all Party members before decisions were reached, the perceived decision by Poots to go on a solo run without consulting with his angry colleagues, sealed his fate and he was forced to resign later that day.

Darren Causby, a DUP Councillor resigned from the Party next day telling reporters, “The DUP is not the party I joined and I have been unhappy for some time.

“We can’t allow Sinn Féin to dictate what happens and that has been the case for some time.”

In the meantime, Party officials have advised Paul Givan to resign so that his successor will be DUP Leader and First Minister simultaneously as had been the case since the 90-seat Northern Ireland power sharing executive was set up in 1999 following the British-Irish Peace Agreement one year earlier.

All eyes this week will be on Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP who is expected to be confirmed as the new DUP Leader without a contest.

He was defeated by Edwin Poots for the Leadership on May 14th by 19 votes to 17, an election result that has split the parliamentary party right down the middle and one that has strained old friendships and strong loyalties with many feeling that Arlene Foster was treated abysmally.

Assuming Donaldson takes over, he will have to mend severely broken bridges by trying to ensure that elected colleagues from the Poots wing are offered ministerial positions in any future administration.

While all this is going on, the turmoil in the DUP has resulted in a number of its councillors defecting to the smaller but more hard-line unionist party the TUV-Traditional Unionist Voice thus splitting its potential vote even further.

Donaldson faces an uphill task to appease rebels in the Party that see the pro-Irish unity party Sinn Féin continually gaining significant concessions from the British Government.

Elsewhere the Loyalist Communities Council which represents pro-British protestant paramilitaries, have entered the fray by calling on the DUP, “to end concessions to Sinn Féin even if it meant bringing down the Stormont [Northern Ireland] Parliament.”

With Sinn Féin on course to surpass the combined unionist vote for the first time in 100 years after next May’s Assembly elections, angry working class British loyalists protesting on the streets over the NI Brexit Protocol and Scottish nationalists pushing to exit the UK, this week’s so-called celebrations at Belfast City Hall will be rather muted.

All the signs suggest that a 200th anniversary celebration in 2121 will be highly unlikely.

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Brexit

Brexit: UK-EU trade deal could collapse over NI row, says Coveney

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The UK's trade deal with the EU could collapse in a row over Northern Ireland, says a senior Irish minister, Brexit.

The UK is thought to be preparing to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (pictured) hinted the EU could terminate the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in response.

He said: "One is contingent on the other so that if one is being set aside there is a danger that the other will also be set aside by the EU."

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Northern Ireland is covered by a special Brexit deal known as the Protocol.

It keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods, which prevents a hard border with Ireland and allows free-flowing trade with the EU.

But it also creates a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is causing difficulties for some businesses.

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Article 16 of the Protocol allows parts of the deal to be suspended if it is causing serious problems - the UK says that threshold has been reached.

The EU has proposed operational changes to the Protocol but the UK is demanding more far-reaching changes.

Mr Coveney said that if the UK did suspend parts of the Northern Ireland deal it would be "deliberately forcing a breakdown in relationships and negotiation between the two sides".

He linked that to the wider UK-EU deal, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

Either side can give 12 months notice that they intend to terminate the TCA.

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Brexit

Brexit: 'Serious consequences' if Article 16 triggered, warns EU

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There will be "serious consequences" if the UK triggers Article 16, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (pictured) has warned, Brexit.

Sefcovic said the move would be "serious for Northern Ireland as it would lead to instability and unpredictability".

His comments follow a meeting with the UK's Brexit minister in Brussels over the protocol dispute.

Lord Frost said progress at the meeting was "limited".

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He said gaps could still be bridged through intensive negotiations.

The protocol is the special Brexit deal agreed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Lorry at a port in Northern Ireland
Goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are now subject to checks and control

It keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods and allows free-flowing trade with the EU.

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But it also creates a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The EU has proposed measures to ease the checks and controls for goods crossing the Irish Sea.

But the UK is demanding fundamental reform and there is growing speculation it will trigger Article 16 - which allows parts of the protocol to be unilaterally suspended if they are causing serious difficulties - in the coming weeks.

'Time running out' on talks

Mr Sefcovic said triggering Article 16 would be serious for EU-UK relations "as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol".

He said that despite a "big move" by the EU on its proposals, "until today we have seen no move at all from the UK side".

Lord Frost
Lord Frost said the UK and EU would "carry on trying" to reach agreement

Following Friday's meeting, a UK spokesperson said Lord Frost had indicated "the EU's proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the protocol was operating".

"He underlined that the UK's preference was still to find a consensual solution that protected the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland," the spokesperson added.

Before the meeting, Lord Frost had warned time was running out on the talks.

He had said the UK was not going to trigger Article 16 on Friday, although this was "very much on the table and has been since July".

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Northern Ireland

UK says substantial differences remain with EU over Northern Ireland trade

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The United Kingdom said on Saturday (23 October) that talks with the European Union over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland had been constructive, but substantial differences remained, writes David Milliken.

Goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland currently face customs checks, as part of a deal reached before Brexit to avoid more contentious border checks between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and EU member Ireland.

However, Britain and the EU disagree over how to implement customs and safety checks, which fall especially heavily on meat, dairy and medical products. Britain also objects to the role played by the EU's supreme court in policing the deal.

"The talks this week were constructive and we've heard some things from the EU that we can work with - but the reality is that we are still far apart on the big issues, especially governance," Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said in a statement released late on Saturday.

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"Whether we're able to establish that momentum soon will help us determine if we can bridge the gap or if we need to use Article 16," the statement added, referring to the possibility of taking unilateral action to ease trade flows.

Britain said talks with EU negotiators would move to London from Brussels next week, and that its Brexit minister David Frost would meet European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic at the end of the week.

Ireland's European Affairs minister Thomas Byrne said on Thursday that the dispute could be resolved within weeks.

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The EU made detailed proposals to ease the transit of goods on Oct. 13, but is unwilling to give up the role of the European Court of Justice.Reporting by David Milliken

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