THE Northern Ireland Protocol is once again dominating media headlines after Sinn Fein’s historic election win 10 days ago.

The Stormont Assembly is currently unable to function as the Unionist DUP have chosen not to back the election of a new speaker. They previously indicated they would not nominate a deputy first minister to serve alongside Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on his way to Northern Ireland to reportedly encourage the restoration of the devolved executive, which has not been functioning for years, but government departments still have with caretaker ministers in place.

In the previous elections in 2017 it took three years to form a government in Northern Ireland.

Here’s a rundown of what’s been going on, and what to expect over the next few weeks of deadlocked talks.

READ MORE: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and Article 16?

What happened at the latest Stormont elections?

SINN Fein pushed the DUP into second place in a historic win which made them the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time. The DUP returned 25 seats, compared to Sinn Fein’s 27. Meanwhile, the centrist cross-community Alliance Party returned 17 seats, more than doubling its previous number.

What happened during the last administration in NI?

The National: The DUP's Paul Girvan, left, and Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, rightThe DUP's Paul Girvan, left, and Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, right

STORMONT has not been functioning since February 4 this year when the DUP’s Paul Girvan resigned as FM in protest over the Irish Sea Border, triggering the automatic resignation of the deputy FM, which is a joint office.

The Good Friday Agreement enshrined power-sharing as the form of government in Northern Ireland, so for the executive to function again both sides will have to agree to work together. This is not the first time this has happened. Out of the 22 years of Stormont’s existence, 35% of that time the nation has been without a functioning government.

How does the Northern Ireland Protocol come into this?

The National: DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been accused of 'holding society to ransom'DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been accused of 'holding society to ransom'

SINN Fein’s O’Neill has accused the DUP of “holding society to ransom” over their demands for changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, has insisted that action needs to be taken over the Protocol if any progress is to be made over power-sharing agreements.

O’Neill said ahead of the PM’s visit that she believes the UK Government have been “shoring up the DUP’s bad behaviour” and that they didn’t need a “pep talk” from Johnson, as the DUP are the ones refusing to engage.

In brief: Sinn Fein back the protocol and the DUP don’t. The creation of an Irish Sea Border (for trade goods and checks) has created an ill feeling amongst Unionists in NI that their British identity is being threatened. There have been protests from both sides.

What has Boris Johnson said ahead of his visit?

The National: Johnson is visiting Northern Ireland on Monday in a bid to get Stormont working againJohnson is visiting Northern Ireland on Monday in a bid to get Stormont working again

IN the past Johnson has repeatedly threatened to trigger Article 16, a mechanism held within the protocol, as have his Brexit negotiators (Lord Frost, then Foreign Secretary Liz Truss). In a 2000 word op-ed, reportedly written by the PM himself and not an aide, in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday morning, Johnson's language softened slightly, but only a little.

He said that the UK never intended to scrap it completely and rather than ditching the protocol, “Let us make it work”. He also urged both Northern Ireland parties to “get back to work” to tackle the cost of living crisis, and also said: “Equally I want to be clear that this Government is not neutral on the Union.”

He also took a few pot-shots at the EU, suggesting they weren’t being flexible at changing or adapting the protocol to fix the issues, appeared to dare the EU to put up a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and included a thinly veiled threat: “I hope the EU’s position changes. If it does not, there will be a necessity to act.”

What legislation is Liz Truss drumming up and how will it help the row?

The National: Truss will reportedly introduce a law which could override parts of the protocolTruss will reportedly introduce a law which could override parts of the protocol

THE Foreign Secretary is expected to announce to the Westminster parliament new legislation which would override parts of the protocol, instead of using Article 16. The law at this stage is only a possibility, and Truss isn’t formally laying it before parliament just yet, so the exact contents are yet to be known.

It would obviously take months for this to go through, with debate in the Commons and then heading to the House of Lords, where it is likely to be rejected. However, it does give Truss bargaining power in her discussions with the EU over the next couple of weeks as the UK tries to get the EU to back down and make changes to the protocol.

What happens next?

The National: Protestors outside of Stormont waiting for Boris Johnson on MondayProtestors outside of Stormont waiting for Boris Johnson on Monday

MONDAY’S negotiations between the EU and UK reportedly did not go well. Sky New’s Beth Rigby tweeting that the discussions were “horrendous”, adding that Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s chief negotiator, was “cross and upset”. This is no surprise.

The talks between the UK and EU have been deadlocked for months, there has been no movement on either side, except for growing threats from the UK that they will trigger Article 16 in order to unilaterally suspend parts of the protocol they think are causing issues, like medicines. Truss's new law plans could further erode relations. 

The EU have also hit back at suggestions they are not being flexible over the issue, so both sides are at a stalemate. There will be more of this in the coming weeks, and Johnson’s attempts to paper over the cracks of the issue with his visit on Monday are unlikely to be fruitful.

In brief: Don’t expect a swift solution to the talks any time soon, we’re in for the long haul.