Northern Ireland

DUP faction is ‘working with TUV’ to block Stormont return, Professor Jon Tonge says

Political party's at Hillsborough Castle for talks with Chris Heaton-Harris
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson flanked by colleagues Gavin Robinson and Emma Little-Pengelly. Picture by Colm Lenaghan (Colm Lenaghan)

A leading authority on the DUP has said senior figures within the party are “working in effect” with the TUV to undermine efforts to restore power-sharing.

Professor Jon Tonge said one of the faction, he described as supporting the “anti-Windsor Framework unionist cause rather than necessarily the DUP”, was responsible for leaking details of last Friday’s party officers’ meeting which effectively scuppered the latest effort to end Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s near-two year boycott of the institutions.

The University of Liverpool academic, author of DUP: From Protest to Power, said the plan for the party’s 12-member officer board to give “more serious consideration” to the deal tabled by the British government was “frankly blown away by the by the leak” to broadcaster Stephen Nolan.

Broadcaster Stephen Nolan
Broadcaster Stephen Nolan

In an intervention which is understood to have come from the BBC presenter while he was still holidaying in the US, Mr Nolan claimed a senior DUP source told him the party officers were gathering last Friday for a “deal or no deal” meeting, with the leadership pushing for the restoration of devolution.

However, sources within the party’s headquarters subsequently indicated that further meetings would take place before any decision is made. They also suggested that Mr Nolan’s source was “seeking to destabilise things”.

It is unclear whether any further meetings will take place in the coming days.

A brief statement on Friday said the party would “not give a running commentary on our position, save to say, we will continue to engage with the [British] government”.

Prof Tonge said he believed Friday’s meeting was supposed to be crucial but that once it was made public, the party sought to play down its significance.

“There’s no secrecy about DUP party officers’ meetings if it’s just routine, as they go ahead regularly,” he told The Irish News.

Professor Jon Tonge.
Professor Jon Tonge.

“Whereas this one was not was not routine – this was supposed to be a more serious consideration of the deal but the plan was frankly blown away by the leak from an opponent.”

He said the episode highlighted the problems the DUP leader was facing internally.

“This is the problem for Jeffrey Donaldson, as he’s got people within his own ranks, not just a couple of party officers but senior figures within the party who are not on the party officers team, who are working in effect with another party,” he said.

“They are working with the TUV, they are working with prominent loyalists to to block any return to Stormont.”

He described the anti-Windsor Framework faction as “TUV-lite ideologically” but said that while they would undermine the party leadership they were “never prepared to contemplate life outside the DUP because they know what it means for them in electoral terms”.

Both the DUP and TUV were contacted for comment.