DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said that he will not lead the DUP back into powersharing until issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.

It comes as Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill said that the DUP and British government must accept and respect the democratic result of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

The DUP leader said that the "long shadow" of the Northern Ireland Protocol is casting its mark over politics in the region.

Speaking at a press conference with his new MLA team at Stormont, Mr Donaldson said: "We want to see this place up and running as soon as possible.

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"We want stable devolved government. We are committed to our participation in those institutions."

However, he said that his party's position had not changed.

"We need decisive action by the government to address the difficulties created by the protocol.

"Whether that is driving up the cost of living, whether that is the harm that it is doing to businesses and our economy, or indeed in undermining political stability in Northern Ireland.

"The protocol needs to be dealt with."

He added: "We sought a mandate from people to adopt the stance that we have taken and we will continue, as we recognise others also have a democratic mandate [and] we want to work with them to deliver stable government for Northern Ireland.

"But the long shadow of the protocol is casting its mark over this place."

Meanwhile, it was confirmed today that the first meeting of the new Stormont Assembly will take place at midday this Friday.

DUP's Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson and Gordon Lyons arriving at Erskine House, Belfast, ahead of their meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis

'Our collective focus must be on the restoration of the Stormont institutions'

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the party leaders "must come together to agree a way forward to deliver a stable and accountable devolved government".

In a statement, he said: "The UK Government's overriding priority remains the preservation of peace and stability in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its strands.

"The current situation with the protocol is fundamentally undermining the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and creating an unacceptable situation in Northern Ireland.

"We will continue to press the EU to agree the crucial changes that are urgently needed but will take nothing off the table in our pursuit of those solutions.

"As I conveyed to party leaders today, our collective focus must be on the restoration of the Stormont institutions so that those newly elected representatives can come together and deliver in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

"I will remain in close contact with the party leaders over the coming days."

Earlier, Taoiseach ,Micheál Martin called for the restoration of the Stormont Executive as soon as possible, saying it is "incumbent" on the parties to do so.

'Brinkmanship will not be tolerated'

The latest comments from the DUP leader suggest that the prospects of any quick return of the devolved powersharing Executive at Stormont are diminishing.

MLAs returned to Parliament Buildings on Monday and party leaders were also holding separate meetings with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

It came as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he does not plan to be personally involved in the Northern Ireland talks and Downing Street played down reports of a Cabinet rift over the protocol.

Thursday's historic election saw Sinn Féin become Stormont's largest party.

Speaking to the media on Monday, the party's leader at Stormont Michelle O'Neill said: "The people have spoken and they have spoken very clearly.

"The message is one of hope, it is also one of optimism for the future, for the political leaders to work together and to make politics work.

"That is my commitment as a political leader and as an incoming first minister.

The Sinn Féin Assembley members at Stormont

"The electorate also demands that the parties get back down to business, to elect a speaker, to sit in the Assembly, to have it function, to appoint a first minister and a deputy first minister, to form a new executive."

"As democrats, the DUP, but also the British government, must accept and respect the democratic outcome of this election.

"Brinkmanship will not be tolerated where the north of Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission.

"Responsibility for finding solutions to the protocol lie with Boris Johnson and the EU.

"But make no mistake, we and our business community here will not be held to ransom."

'The man with the stopwatch is Brandon Lewis'

Speaking following his meeting with Brandon Lewis in Belfast earlier, Jeffrey Donaldson had said that decisive action was needed by the UK government on the protocol.

Later at Stormont, he said that the sooner the UK government takes action over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the sooner his party would nominate ministers to join an executive.

"The man with the stopwatch is Brandon Lewis. The people who can deliver the change are Boris Johnson and the government.

Mr Donaldson also said that other parties need to respect his mandate.

He said: "I have a mandate, the DUP has a mandate. Our mandate is clear, we want to see political stability, we are democrats, we want the political institutions to work.

"I am asking other democratic parties to respect my mandate as much as they want me to respect theirs.

Asked if he was willing to go for another election in six months time, he said: "I am never afraid to face the people."

'With power comes responsibility'

The centre-ground Alliance Party made significant gains in the election, increasing its seat count by nine to 17, becoming the third largest party at Stormont behind Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Leading her enlarged team into Stormont on Monday morning, Naomi Long told the media they were turning up for work as they had promised voters during their election campaign.

"I want us to sit down, get the negotiations under way on the programme for government and the budget, and I want to see us getting government up and running as quickly as possible," she said.

The Alliance Party at Stormont today

"We're going to see a functioning Assembly hopefully pretty soon, that will be the easier part of all of this, but to get a functioning executive we need the DUP to step up to the plate.

"With power comes responsibility, and people now need to take the responsibility seriously.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said on Monday that if the protocol was the obstacle to a functioning executive at Stormont, then it needed to be dealt with.

"If the obstacle to doing that is the protocol then we need to deal with the protocol.

"We all know what the landing zone is, no checks on goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are staying in Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist Leader Doug Beattie leaving Erskine House, Belfast

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urged the DUP to nominate ministers for a new executive.

He said: "We know who got the mandates, we will support them when we have to, we will also hold them to account, but they should get on with it today and form a government."

The Stormont Executive has been unable to fully function since February when then first minister Paul Givan resigned as part of the DUP's efforts to force action against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sinn Féin's election victory means that their Stormont leader, Ms O'Neill, should be in line to become the first nationalist or republican first minister.

However, the DUP, as the second largest party, must nominate a deputy first minister to serve alongside her in the joint office.


Read more:
EU flexibility on NI Protocol 'not reciprocated' - Martin
Lewis urges DUP to nominate deputy first minister
The latest Northern Ireland Assembly election stories


It may suit the British government if the DUP digs its heels in

There were reports just days before the election that Boris Johnson would use the Queen's speech to reveal that new legislation was being prepared that would do just that.

Subsequent reports and briefings suggested it might be more of a wink and a nod in that direction rather than an explicit declaration.

The reality is that it may suit the British government if the DUP digs its heels in on the issue as it can use that in an attempt to wring concessions from Europe: the message to Europe would be, if you do not compromise you are jeopardising power-sharing and therefore the Good Friday Agreement, which the EU has said it will do everything possible to protect.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said there is a need for partnership from Britain - not threats - to solve the Protocol issue.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson's official spokesman said that people in Northern Ireland "deserve a stable and accountable devolved government".

On whether there is any plan for Mr Johnson to get personally involved in the talks or involved in the talks with the EU, he said: "No plans for that.

"This has been led by Brandon Lewis."