If Jeffrey Donaldson pulls down Stormont, it won’t come back

Posted By: September 15, 2021

 Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, September 15, 2021.

There’s widespread agreement that if Sir Jeffrey Donaldson pulls down the Executive there won’t be another one.

Without the pandemic, it’s unlikely this one would have lasted so long. It was clear within a couple of months that it had been cobbled together on false pretenses in January 2020. The cooperation between Simon Coveney and Julian Smith was a temporary aberration in the bad relations Brexit caused between Dublin and London since 2017. Within six weeks of Smith being sacked our current proconsul had abrogated the Stormont House Agreement, a central feature of what his government had agreed in January.

By the time the pandemic had taken hold in March 2020, it was obvious that the deal to restore the Executive was a con job which should really have been called New Decade Same Approach. Sinn Féin and the DUP were at daggers drawn on a range of items, but the health crisis meant that they went through the motions because neither party wanted to be blamed for walking away as infections and deaths mounted. However, that did not mask the truth that there was no progress on anything, most obviously commissioning abortion services and passing even the anemic Irish language act agreed in January.

When the DUP imploded in April this year over the Irish Protocol, [which] they had approved in 2019,  and in which they saw ‘opportunities’ in 2020, a number of factors came together in Unionism. First, while SF saw no movement at Stormont because of DUP blocking, tacitly aided and abetted by the allegedly moderate UUP, it is also true that the DUP also saw nothing in Stormont for them. Worse, the British government was acting to circumvent DUP blocking tactics. On top of this Unionists, convinced by the DUP’s nemesis Jim Allister, successfully trapped the DUP into carrying the can for the Protocol and its effects.

Furthermore, as the DUP slid in the polls, SF consistently soared higher. We have now reached the point where SF is an unassailable nine points ahead of the DUP, and the recent Sunday Times poll in the Republic puts them ten points ahead of Fine Gael. It’s difficult to see how Michelle O’Neill would not be first minister, a scenario unacceptable to many Unionists. Jim Allister has advocated refusing to nominate a deputy first minister in such circumstances. No one in the DUP has said they will accept a Sinn Féin First Minister. Pulling down the Executive on the pretext of the Protocol is a way to avoid the dread scenario of a Sinn Féin First Minister.

However, it also throws the baby out with the bathwater. Donaldson’s ill-considered, panicky attempt to stem the flow of support to Jim Allister, or to recognize the demise of the DUP in the summer, his refusal to contemplate the consequences of Unionism’s inevitable decline, prove what we all know: The North is a failed political entity. It’s an irony that it has to be the Unionists, handed this place [the Six Counties of Northern Ireland] in 1921— after an unparalleled campaign of murder and arson—who are the people to demonstrate it can’t work because no Unionist leader is capable of reciprocity with republicans: mere equality is unthinkable.

Last Thursday Donaldson, with laughable pomposity, talked about “going to the country”. What country? Does he think he’s Prime Minister? Does he not even realize he can’t call an election? Leaving aside an examination of how preposterous his threats are, what his speech boiled down to was a hilarious public political hara-kiri. Give me what I want to save me from Allister and the wrath of Unionists or I’ll destroy myself politically, bury my zombie party and abolish The North’s institutions into the bargain. Some prospectus.

If he does carry out his threats, and Allister has set a deadline of fifty days, no sensible Unionist will thank him, but Republicans will be able to point at his antics to show he has validated their argument and advanced their objective.