By Graeme Hanna •
Updated: 15 Oct 2023 • 8:28
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland has indicated that a return to power-sharing is ‘essential’ to maintain the Union.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking at the DUP annual conference in Belfast on Saturday when he made the comments.
The party walked out of the NI power-sharing government 18 months ago in protest at post-Brexit trade rules and have maintained their boycott of the institutions with the Windsor Framework now in place following the latest deal between the UK and EU.
As reported by BBC News, he stated the importance of restoring the devolved government at Stormont.
“Having no say in our future will not be a recipe for success,” said the MP for Lagan Valley.
“If we want to make the positive case for the union, then having local institutions that succeed in delivering for everyone in Northern Ireland is an essential element in building our case.”
The DUP has maintained that the Windsor Framework is unacceptable to Unionists as it undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK with the province still in the EU’s single market, whilst others have argued that it gives the place a strategic advantage of being able to trade freely with the European bloc, unlike the rest of the UK.
Talks have been ongoing with Westminster for several months in order to find a breakthrough but these comments at the party conference suggest something tangible is in the offing.
“Today I can report that we are making progress, but there remains more work to do,” said Donaldson.
“I am hopeful that remaining concerns can be addressed as quickly as possible.”
Unionist reaction to DUP move
Despite the impasse, Donaldson is thought to be keen on a return to the power-sharing government at Stormont, whilst other hardliners in the party would be looking for more from Westminster.
They want NI to be on the same footing as the rest of the UK when it comes to post-Brexit arrangements but to date that hasn’t materialised.
Firstly, it was the NI Protocol which has been replaced by the Windsor Framework that they insist makes NI a place apart with an effective ‘sea border’ in place with Britain.
The framework reduces the checks on trade goods being transported from Britain across the Irish Sea but this isn’t acceptable to many grassroots loyalists.
If this is the start of a move to return to devolution, as it appears, there is likely to be a frosty reaction from within the DUP as well as from Unionists on the outside.
“Time and again, Westminster has imposed laws upon us that are not in tune with the needs or wishes of the people of Northern Ireland,” Donaldson said.
“You cannot on the one hand repeatedly condemn successive governments for letting us down and then argue with credibility that we are better off ruled directly by those who do not really understand what makes this place tick.”
That above is the conundrum that the DUP have to face, whilst his political opponents from nationalism and the centre in NI will have a feeling of ‘preaching to the converted’.
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Graeme is a freelance writer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland who has been writing full-time for the last three years. He specialises in football and Rangers FC in particular, as well as being on top of news and trending matters. His work has been published in titles such as Rangers Review, Give Me Sport, Manchester Evening News, MyLondon and the Belfast News Letter.
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