Posted By: December 15, 2023



Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

“This article by the respected John Manley, Political  Correspondent, Irish News, Belfast, will be helpful to Members of Congress.”—Fr. Sean McManus.

Shifting sands leave the DUP with a stark choice

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, December 14, 2023.

The direction of travel is clear but the timeframe less so. Since the summer when the British government confirmed it was involved in post-Windsor Framework engagement with the DUP we’ve been moving towards this point. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been seeking legislative reassurances about Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market, along with measures that he hopes will help safeguard the region’s place in the union.

The British government was adamant it was never going to reopen the Windsor Framework, a deal that represents a new post-Brexit relationship with the EU, so the room for maneuver was always limited. That partially explains why this has been such an arduous and drawn-out process, and one that now looks increasingly likely to continue in the new year.

The other reason it’s taken so long is because we’re dealing with a party that is unsure of itself and riven with division.

Yes, everybody in the DUP is a unionist and believes the north should be an equal, constituent part of the UK but some are more trenchant on this than others. The hardliners, whose influence is often exaggerated, tend to be those in safe seats, whether it’s in the Commons or Lords, while the more pragmatic wing is largely made up of MLAs who need an assembly in order to have any future political career. The latter’s Westminster allies – Sir Jeffrey and Gavin Robinson – are arguably the two DUP MPs whose seats are most vulnerable.

It’s not just about self-interest though. It’s taken a while for the penny to drop but there’s a growing realization that old-school blood and thunder unionism no longer gets the traction it once did. This is evident in the rise of the center ground and a corresponding fall in support for political unionism. The traditional bogeymen – the IRA and an economically backward Republic of Ireland, where Church and state acted in tandem – have all but disappeared. The merits of the union must now be sold on new terms that extend beyond culture wars and sectarianism.

The DUP leadership knows this – Peter Robinson said as much more than a decade ago – yet there are those within the party, and externally, who still regard politics as a zero-sum game. It is they – backwoodsmen and Twitter agitators – who are holding Sir Jeffrey and the rest of us to ransom.

Could the Stormont Brake derail the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Yet no matter how much it’s dressed up, what the British government is offering the DUP will not meet its seven tests and will not stop EU regulations being applied in the north. It looks likely there’ll be a new east-west council but once Stormont is back up and running that’ll be forgotten faster than Liz Truss.

Ultimately, what’s needed is some courage and bravery from Sir Jeffrey, attributes that many argue he’s lacked in the past. Dual market access, as he once indicated, is a positive for Northern Ireland and by extension for the constitutional status quo. Bickering over paperwork and constitutional details while public services deteriorate will only put voters off.

The money’s there and the legislation has been promised – now the DUP needs to decide where it wants to be in the months and years ahead.