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Northern Ireland deadlock: We could be in for a slow bicycle race

Inside Politics: If election was seismic, aftershocks may not register on Richter scale

In the aftermath of elections in Northern Ireland, a long-running deadlock looks to be the order of the day. If that was a seismic election, the aftershocks may not register on the Richter scale.

Perhaps this is unsurprising – new features have been devised to allow space and time for the devolved administration to come together – time limits and deadlines extended, meaning a zombie Executive could be in place for months. With outstanding questions over the Northern Ireland protocol for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the wider identity crisis within unionism, we could be set for a slow bicycle race. Aside from DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson having to make his intentions vis-a-vis his Westminster seat clear, deadlines are some way off. And, while the election results give rhetorical prominence to the two issues that animate the political projects of Sinn Féin and the DUP (Irish unity and preserving the union by dismantling the protocol), the reality is that in a formal sense, Stormont has little to do with the future of either of these topics. So attention is set to shift elsewhere.

Freya McClements and Pat Leahy report this morning that a difficult few months are expected in negotiations between the UK and Brussels – with a lack of trust between the sides compounding difficulties. British foreign secretary Liz Truss is to meet EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic in the coming days – but Mr Sefcovic sounded a chilly note of caution and warning: "We need the UK government to dial down the rhetoric, be honest about the deal they signed and agree to find solutions within its framework." All eyes will be on the Queen's speech (delivered by Prince Charles) for signs that the British government is considering unilateral moves to set aside part of the protocol.

There are chinks of light from the DUP – officials in Dublin, Pat notes, took encouragement that Donaldson's rhetoric aims for action on the protocol rather than its abolition. Despite the Taoiseach's view that a landing zone is in sight, the prospect of permanent conflict between Brussels and Downing Street, ruinous for relations but politically expedient for No 10, may beckon. Read more of Pat's analysis here.

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The latest from yesterday's developments is here.

Elsewhere on the front page, Arthur Beesley reports on the latest developments in the fall-out from the controversy over the second-most powerful official in An Bord Pleanála. There is growing disquiet in both planning and political circles over claims of impropriety in his personal declarations to the planning authority. In a statement last night, the board said Paul Hyde had agreed to absent himself from his duties as deputy chairperson "for the time being, on a strictly without prejudice basis". More on that here.

Meanwhile, the paper is led today by the latest from Ukraine, where president Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought to overshadow Russian second World War commemorations by saying Vladimir Putin's regime is "doomed".

Best reads

Naomi O'Leary is writing on ideas to reform Europe, and the realities that hold them back.

Fintan O'Toole on the limbo state of Northern Ireland.

Today's paper carries a special magazine on the history and legacy of the Civil War, and President Michael D Higgins marks it with an op-ed on the war, and his own family history.

Playbook

Cabinet is set to start at 9am in Dublin Castle, with Ministers set to approve the extension of the 9 per cent VAT rate for the hospitality sector. According to a recent parliamentary question response, doing this until the end of 2023 could cost €500 million – but proposals from Paschal Donohoe are not thought to go that far, and a cost of about €200 million-€250 million is expected for the measure.

It’s not the first time a Government has found a VAT cut difficult to put back in the box – the Fine Gael-Labour coalition put one in that survived longer than that Government, well into the confidence and supply era. Aside from that, indications were for a threadbare agenda, with little in the way of newsworthy memos to Government, and a lot of ambassadorial appointments, procedural and technical matters instead. Which usually means they’re hiding something.

More on what's coming at Cabinet is here.

The Dáil starts with Leaders’ Questions at 2pm, from Sinn Féin, Labour, PBP-Solidarity and the Rural Independents. The Order of Business will be agreed afterwards, before Taoiseach’s Questions at 3.05pm. Government business will be given over to statements on Europe Day, before a Private Members’ Bill from Sinn Féin on affordable housing – that’s at 6.15pm. Simon Coveney is taking oral questions shortly after 8pm, with his Foreign Affairs hat on, and topical issues will be heard at 9.45pm.

Over at the committees action starts at 11am, with evidence on the impact of the new National Retrofitting Plan on emissions, and the built environment, at the environment committee. The Department of Housing, and advocacy groups, as well as the Department of Health, will be examining older persons' housing at 3pm. More on what they'll be told here.

At the same time, the children’s committee will hear from Tusla on challenges facing the foster care sector.

There are private meetings of the education, justice, health, foreign affairs and Good Friday Agreement committees.

In the Seanad, there may be moves to give effect to the VAT rate extension as part of the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022, and the second stage of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill is at 6.30pm.