The DUP has been accused by Sinn Féin of “holding society to ransom” by refusing to say if it will elect a speaker to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Friday – a measure required to ensure a functioning Stormont.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has also insisted his party will not nominate ministers to form a new executive until concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.
The speaker’s appointment requires cross-community backing from unionist and nationalist parties. In its absence the institutions are effectively paralysed as no Assembly business can take place.
Mr Donaldson told the BBC his party needed “to make a decision” on the issue, with the outcome dependent on the actions of the British government this week.
“The protocol is not supported by any unionist MLA elected to the Assembly last week. We can’t go on with the situation where there is no consensus at all for this protocol,” he said.
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said any attempt to block a new speaker was unacceptable.
“What we need to see is the positions filled – first minister, deputy first minister, all the ministerial positions filled, and let’s get down to doing business,” she said. “It is not good enough for the people here that the DUP is holding society to ransom, punishing society, preventing the establishment of a speaker and an executive to actually respond to the things people are worried about.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Wednesday warned of deteriorating relations between Dublin and London, saying the working partnership approach adopted in the past to deal with contentious issues in Northern Ireland “is absent at the moment”.
Mr Coveney, who travelled to the North to meet Stormont party leaders, told media that British government comments on taking “unilateral action” in relation to the protocol – which has effectively created a post-Brexit border in the Irish Sea – had gone down “really badly” across the EU.
His criticism came as British prime minister Boris Johnson reiterated his threat to the EU to override elements of the protocol, saying the Belfast Agreement was more important than the post-Brexit deal.