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What my conversations with friends reveal about NI politics and why Stormont doesn’t work

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The eagerly anticipated BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends starts tomorrow. It might seem unlikely but this novel by a thirtysomething bestselling writer has much to teach the crusty veterans of political conflict in Northern Ireland.

It seems every generation has to be reminded of the need to, and the risks of, reaching out to the other. Though this place has been submerged in talks all my lifetime — secret talks, peace talks, proximity talks, bipartisan talks, new deal talks, talks about talks about talks — few have ever really grasped the most important element in any conversation.


People didn’t want to hear what unionists felt about the NI Protocol. When unionist politicians repeatedly said that many unionists from all walks of life felt unhappy about its constitutional ramifications, the response was dismissive, patronising and, sometimes, triumphalist.

Now even with a mandate to do something about it, they meet the same response.

Put bluntly, the fact it’s politically advantageous to disadvantage unionism means more to some than solving a problem that’s upsetting the Good Friday Agreement equilibrium.

The Assembly election proved that unionists were indeed bothered by the protocol. The DUP, UUP and TUV all oppose it and have been handed a substantial, renewed mandate to get significant changes to it.

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It was always clear that the DUP, win or lose, was going to drag its feet over a new........

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