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Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, DUP Westminster Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP said,

The first 6 paragraphs of the Belfast Agreement are a declaration of support from its signatories. Paragraph 5 is very clear where it states:

"It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements... are interlocking and interdependent".


That interdependence and balance or relationships has been the bedrock of efforts to make progress in Northern Ireland. However that delicate balance or "totality of relationships" which is often credited to John Hume, has been undermined by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

By damaging the East-West relationship, it has not only created tensions within Northern Ireland but also impacted on those between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This impact was of course flagged up by the Belfast Agreement which we are told the Northern Ireland Protocol is there to protect.

Whilst it may have been tempting for some unionists to argue in support of a 'hard border' between Northern Ireland and the Republic, a knowledge and acceptance of the interlocking and interdependent relationships meant that no such argument was ever credibly put forward.

Whilst the main focus has been on barriers to trade within the United Kingdom caused by the Protocol, the damage goes beyond that. The principle of consent is absolutely fundamental to unionism and should be fundamental to anyone who believes in democratic and peaceful politics.

The Protocol not only ignores that principle, but it was further facilitated by the UK Government in changing the voting mechanism within the Assembly. We are often reminded about the international status of the Belfast Agreement and its co-guarantors, yet this example of 'unilateral action' to change the Belfast Agreement has been accepted and even celebrated by some. It certainly would have been inconceivable to imagine in 1998 that the United Kingdom government unilaterally imposing majority rule would have been greeted with such a reaction by nationalist representatives.

We should not ignore or take lightly the words of David Trimble when he has said "I feel personally betrayed" by the Protocol, its damage to the Belfast Agreement and particularly to the principle of consent. Much effort has been expended recently to dismiss and diminish the views of those represented by the Loyalist Communities Council. Their views however were regarded as being of great importance within the Belfast Agreement and they too were signatories to it.

The significance of unionist opposition to the Protocol comes because the Protocol was raised up as being the only means of protecting the Belfast Agreement. Ignoring unionist opposition to the Protocol clearly runs the risk of that translating into a withdrawal of support for the Agreement we are told it is designed to protect.

This should be of concern to everyone bound up in the totality of relationships encompassed within the Belfast Agreement. If the EU and UK are determined to protect the Belfast Agreement then it will require political will and a recognition of a need for change.