SDLP leader brands DUP boycott ‘immoral’ and says failure to restore institutions may cost Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the polls

Chris Heaton-Harris has been urged to deliver pay awards for public sector workers
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the continued DUP boycott of the institutions is “immoral”, as he warned Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that there could be electoral consequences from his party’s refusal to restore power-sharing.

The Foyle MP’s remarks came as the British government signalled it has no immediate plans to pressurise the DUP into reforming an executive.

The secretary of state is obliged to call fresh assembly election on January 18 if Stormont is not restored.

When asked to outline any forthcoming efforts to help revive the institutions, the Northern Ireland Office directed The Irish News to a platform piece by Chris Heaton-Harris published on December 29.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph the secretary of state said he would not be treating January 18 as a deadline.

“I am considering all options carefully, however, I want Stormont to return as soon as possible so I am not treating this date as a target and will be relentlessly working with all parties to find a way forward,” he said.

Mr Heaton-Harris has also insisted that his talks with the DUP over its concerns around the post-Brexit trading arrangements have concluded. However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has indicated that he believes the negotiations will continue.

In a new year’s message to party supporters, the DUP leader said that 2024 “is the year we want to see our negotiations successfully concluded” with the British government.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused the Irish Government of double standards over legacy
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insists negotiations with the British government are not over. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire (Liam McBurney/PA)

He also said that he wanted to safeguard the north’s place in the UK internal market whilst retaining our access to the EU single market.

“These objectives are not mutually exclusive, nor do they lead to the creation of an all-island economy,” he said.

But in an apparent contradiction of his party leader’s aspiration for unfettered dual access, Sammy Wilson said “you can’t have both”.

The East Antrim MP told the News Letter that the EU demanded restrictions on trade with Britain in order that the north can have access to the single market.

Sir Jeffrey also told supporters that when a UK general election is called, the DUP is “confident” that it has a “solid record of delivery that we can campaign on”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

But Mr Eastwood warned Sir Jeffrey that the electorate may not be as forgiving as he hoped.

“Time is up – the talks have concluded and the deal is clearly ready to be done,” he told The Irish News.

“Every day that Jeffrey Donaldson delays, hospital waiting lists get longer, people are denied a fair pay increase and public services get closer to the brink – it’s not just unfair, it’s immoral and people will not forgive it when the time comes to cast their judgment on this whole sorry saga.”