All Jeffrey Donaldson brings to the table is a layer of polish

Posted By: July 05, 2021


Chris Donnelly. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, July 5, 2021

During his first major speech as party leader last Thursday, the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson spent almost half an hour speaking without saying anything different from his two predecessors who have shared the burden to date of carrying the party leader tag in this centenary year of the state’s formation.

The chickens are all coming home to roost at the same time for the DUP, and not one of its relay team of leaders has the first idea of how to handle the situation other than resorting to angry pronouncements seeking to divert attention and blame on to others.

True to form, Donaldson wasted no time in vilifying Dublin, where apparently the taoiseach has been replaced with a prime minister – either that or Sir Jeffrey thought it would be too much of a concession to use an Irish language term in his big speech this close to the Twelfth.

The DUP, alone amongst our leading parties, gave its unequivocal support to Brexit, and the disastrous manner in which Donaldson stewarded the party’s approach to influencing the form of Brexit ultimately agreed by Westminster makes a mockery of his efforts to angrily accuse the Irish government of straining relationships and causing instability on this island.

The new DUP leader’s lengthy speech was designed to be a turning of the page moment, incorporating a phrase of regret for the manner in which the party’s internal wrangling had dominated politics for several months and allowed dirty laundry to be aired in public before asking for a line to be drawn under that episode.

Alas, Alex Easton had a different plan and his resignation from a party he labeled as lacking in “respect” and “decency”- the same party Arlene Foster called “nasty” and “regressive” some weeks ago – put paid to any notion that the DUP could convince people that the past two months were just a bad nightmare.

Thanks to Easton’s decision, Sinn Féin now sits as the largest party in Stormont, an appropriately ironic development as Orangemen prepare to march in commemoration of 100 years of their wee province’s existence.

Another blow was dealt to the DUP-led Smash the Protocol campaign last week when the High Court dismissed the legal challenge brought by an assortment of prominent unionist figures, including Ben Habib, who now opposes the protocol he voted for just last year.

It is worth repeating over and over again that the protocol was agreed, endorsed, and championed by Boris Johnson and his government who successfully secured its approval by the Westminster Parliament. It was not foisted upon anyone – and Justice Colton made a specific point of criticizing as unhelpful the patently ridiculous charge by the applicants’ barrister that the operation of the protocol could be compared to the Vichy regime that operated during Nazi-occupied France.

The ruling confirmed what was widely known. The protocol is self-evidently lawful as Parliament remains sovereign in the United Kingdom, which we have been told often enough was the point of Brexit. Making the case that the Act of Union, more than two centuries old and predating Catholic Emancipation by almost three decades, has been breached by the protocol ignores the fact that the Act has been amended on numerous occasions. Indeed, the very existence of the state of Northern Ireland being commemorated this year by loyalists is only possible because Article One of the Act of Union declaring that Great Britain and Ireland would be forever united was effectively amended – and that’s before we get into any of the other changes that have taken place over two centuries, including devolved government in The North post-partition, which was not in place in Scotland nor Wales until 70 years later.

Donaldson is bringing nothing new to the table except a layer of polish. He has already employed the traditional DUP tactic of stoking fear and raising anger to rally the loyal. In his speech, he was quick to pitch the next election as a referendum on a border poll in an attempt to frighten Unionists back into the DUP fold. With typical arrogance, he went on to proclaim that “more than ever, Unionists and those who care about peace and stability must come together to resist this threat.” The logic of his carefully worded comments would suggest that, in the new DUP leader’s mind, anyone supporting constitutional change does not care about peace nor stability.

Those expecting change will be disappointed.