"The Perfidious Protocol".

That's how RTÉ's Morning Ireland presenter Gavin Jennings introduced his interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Tuesday.

A reference to the oft-used phrase "Perfidious Albion", historically used to describe Britain's reputation in Europe for bad faith, treachery and reneging on agreements.

Britain appears to be reverting to that historical play book.

Simon Coveney let his frustration show during a visit to Belfast on Monday to meet the leaders of Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, Ulster Unionists and SDLP in the aftermath of the Stormont election.

The minister has pointedly used the word "partnership" in a series of statements and media interviews in recent weeks, saying politics in Northern Ireland has worked better during the past 25 years when Dublin and London have worked together.

When I asked if he still believes the British government is interested in partnership, he didn't pull any punches.

"I don't know is the honest answer."

Simon Coveney

Mr Coveney then elaborated, saying the kind of partnership the two governments enjoyed in the past "is absent at the moment", and spoke of the need to "rebuild trust".

When he said the Irish Government wants "partnership, friendship and how neighbours should behave with each other", it was a clear signal that he believes all of those factors are currently missing.

He is not alone.

The Taoiseach is also known to have become increasingly frustrated with the British government's approach.

A phone call between Micheál Martin and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday did not go well.

"Frank and honest" was how the Taoiseach described it.

"Extremely difficult" was another read out.

Boris Johnson

The Taoiseach, Minister for Foreign Affairs and their officials have become increasingly frustrated with a narrative being pushed aggressively by the British government and the DUP which paints the European Commission as the source of all Protocol problems.

Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson have all repeatedly accused Europe of being inflexible.

As far as the Irish Government is concerned, the reverse is true. They say Europe has demonstrated a willingness to compromise and put workable solutions on the table, only for the UK to frown with disdain and ask for more.


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There is also frustration at the lack of acknowledgement of the fact that a majority of the 90 members elected to the Stormont Assembly last week are in favour of the Protocol remaining in place, with adjustments to improve its implementation.

Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, SDLP and People Before Profit won a combined 53 of the 90 seats.

That leaves 37, all unionist, opposed to the Protocol, who say it either has to go completely or must be radically transformed because in its present form they view it as a threat to Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the UK.

"If a physical border checkpoint was built between counties Fermanagh and Donegal or Down and Louth, even moderate nationalists would be outraged and say it was unacceptable," said one senior DUP member.

"For us the Irish Sea border is essentially the same thing. You can't see it, but it is a customs barrier and that barrier suggests a difference between one side and the other, that Northern Ireland is different to the rest of the United Kingdom.

"That's the key. The Union is one, but the way the Protocol is being implemented suggests it's not. The Irish Government doesn't seem capable of understanding that reality for unionists."

Jeffrey Donaldson is right when he says no elected unionist member of the Assembly supports the Protocol, but not all share his approach.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie and his eight other MLAs all want radical change, but believe that can be done in parallel with the restoration of devolution at Stormont. That's a view articulated by Micheál Martin.

That leaves those in the Assembly in favour of restoring the power-sharing Executive with a majority of 62 to 28.

"The reality is that the British government negotiated the Protocol, it signed up to and now it is threatening to renege on it," said one official.

"The constant narrative from the British government is that Europe is to blame, that it's the problem and that the majority of people in Northern Ireland have rejected the protocol.

"Neither of those statements are true."

While there has been a breakdown in the working partnership between Dublin and London, there is a growing sense of a working partnership between the British government and the DUP.

I described it last week as akin to a wrestling tag team with the pair working together to wring concessions from Europe.

The sense in Dublin is that it suits the British government agenda for the DUP to dig in its heels as that gives increased leverage in negotiations.

The DUP decision not to endorse the appointment of a Speaker at Stormont on Friday means the Assembly can't function in any meaningful way, with no meetings or debates.

That gives the British government ammunition as it can argue that Northern Ireland is rudderless without a functioning administration as a result of the Protocol.

"It's becoming pretty obvious that they are working together and are on the same path," said another official.

Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP

"Some are wondering if the DUP is following instructions about how best to increase the pressure to improve the British government's hand and maximise pressure on Europe."

Boris Johnson is due at Stormont tomorrow to meet the leaders of the main party leaders.

There is speculation that he might use the visit to make an announcement about his intended direction of travel and signal unilateral action on the Protocol. The DUP hopes that is the case, but will be understandably nervous as he has let them down before.

The Taoiseach is also due to visit Belfast next Friday for discussions with the party leaders, including Jeffrey Donaldson.

Whatever happens on the Protocol next week, at some point in the near or distant future there will be discussions about restoring power-sharing.

At that point, the clear deterioration in the relationship between Dublin and London could be a serious problem.

The last time devolution was restored after a three year suspension, in January 2020, Simon Coveney had a very good personal and working relationship with the then Northern Secretary Julian Smith.

Their partnership approach was crucial to persuading the parties at Stormont to sign up to the New Decade New Approach agreement that paved the way for Sinn Féin and the DUP to go back into government together.

Simon Coveney and Julian Smith in 2020

The personal and close working relationship between former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British prime minister Tony Blair was key to getting the Good Friday Agreement over the line.

For most of the years since those halcyon days, the diplomatic channels between Dublin and London, joint guarantors of that agreement, have worked well. There have been disagreements and differences of opinion, but for the most part a sense that when it came to Northern Ireland both sides were on the same page.

That kind of partnership and understanding clearly does not exist at this stage.

It's not a new development, there has been concern within the Irish Government for some time now about what is viewed as British disengagement from the bilateral approach to Northern Ireland.

Not just on the Protocol but also on the issue of how best to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, with the British government blatantly disregarding an agreement with the Irish Government and the political parties at Stormont about the way forward.

In June last year, Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis travelled to Dublin Castle for the first British Irish Intergovernmental Conference for more than two years.

Repairing relations was on the menu as well as a discussion with Simon Coveney about how best to deal with the hugely controversial issue of legacy.

At a joint press conference afterwards the two governments announced a joint review of the issue, saying they wanted an agreed way forward.

The following morning a number of UK newspapers carried stories about the UK preparing to end prosecutions of former British soldiers for killings during the Troubles.

It was clear to the Department of Foreign Affairs that while Brandon Lewis had been talking about a joint open-ended review of the issue, elements of the British media were briefed in London about a unilateral course of action that London knew Dublin strongly opposes.

"Some are wondering if the DUP is following instructions about how best to increase the pressure to improve the British government's hand and maximise pressure on Europe"

In June last year, the Northern Secretary brokered a deal that led to Sinn Féin and the DUP going back into power-sharing following the resignation of Arlene Foster as first minister.

The kernel of that deal was an unambiguous promise by the British government to introduce Irish language legislation if the Stormont Assembly failed to agree to do so by October. There was no agreement and still no Irish Language Act.

Trust is an essential ingredient in political discussions.

Trust that what is said is what is meant.

Trust that an agreement is actually an agreement.

It's a virtue that's clearly in short supply and one that could take some time to rebuild.