If unionists can’t agree to live on equal terms then it’s over for Stormont

Posted By: June 23, 2021

Irish Congressional Briefing

Distributed to congress by Irish National Caucus


“Members of Congress who support equality, justice and peace in Ireland will find Brian Feeney’s take on new DUP leader and new First Minister of Northern Ireland useful.”

—Fr. Sean McManus

Jeffrey Donaldson’s record shows he’s been remarkably consistently an old style hardline unionist.

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, June 22, 2021

There are buckets of ink being wasted on wondering whether Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is a ‘moderate’ in the DUP, or even more laughably, ‘on the (non-existent) moderate wing of the DUP’. In fact Donaldson’s record shows he’s been remarkably consistently an old style hardline unionist.

Like the DUP as a whole Donaldson opposed the Good Friday Agreement. He walked out on David Trimble at a crucial point in the final negotiations. He then spent the next five years leading the anti-GFA faction in the UUP undermining Trimble through an endless series of meetings of the party’s Ulster Unionist Council. After repeatedly failing either to get rid of Trimble or defeat him in these meetings Donaldson finally left the UUP and joined the DUP in 2004. The DUP never signed up to the GFA but preferred to attach the fig leaf of the St Andrews agreement to enable them to get into the Stormont executive.

Donaldson’s opposition to the terms and consequences of the GFA, like the rest of the DUP, has never changed, so Brexit offered what appeared to be an unforeseen opportunity to negate some of those consequences, one of the most offensive being an open British border in Ireland.

Donaldson was instantly one of the most enthusiastic Brexiteers. He spent 2016-19 arguing ceaselessly for a deal which would inevitably produce a hard border. He made countless media appearances talking nonsense about magical technical apparatus for detecting the contents of lorries crossing the border, apparatus which exists nowhere in the world, nor could it.

All Donaldson and the DUP could see was that if there were a hard Brexit then there would be a hard British border in Ireland. How that was policed was neither here nor there.

So determined was Donaldson to achieve this goal that he didn’t care about the inevitable economic consequences either; against all evidence he routinely denied them. When confronted with an official civil service report forecasting 40,000 job losses in the north he infamously responded to BBC Radio 5 that he “could live with that.” Nothing was as important as re-establishing the border of the 1950s.

The stupidity of his position was mind-blowing. The EU, the USA and his own British government all professed themselves determined to avoid a hard border in Ireland for economic, social, political and security reasons. Why did Donaldson think his nonsensical plan would prevail? Simple: his unbending reflexive hardline unionism.

He’s still at it. His current speeches against the Irish protocol indicate his belief that if he can whip up the opposition to it the British government will finally jettison it. Unionists’ great, though forlorn, hope is that if the protocol goes then a hard border follows. Bingo! Doesn’t matter what the US or the EU say, marching a few hundred suckers round Newtownards will change everything. Have they any idea how tawdry a makeshift platform with, of all people, the intellectual giant Kate Hoey on it looks? That’ll take a lot of votes off Johnson.

Still, so important is it to Donaldson and the DUP to have a hard border that they will block the re-establishment of an executive unless the protocol is removed. Good luck with that. Acht na Gaelige is emotive but secondary. In that case there will be an election, but so what? Our proconsul can stall an election for years: there’s plenty of precedent dating as far back as 2003. If and when an election is called it will be to what? An executive won’t be formed because the protocol will still be operating and if the British government keeps its promise to Sinn Féin. On the other hand, if the British cave in to the DUP and renege on Acht na Gaelige SF won’t nominate.

It’s the end game folks. If unionists can’t agree to live on equal terms, which means respecting SF and honoring their word, then it’s sin é for Stormont.