Northern Ireland

More DUP meetings ahead of Stormont restoration decision

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Emma Little-Pengelly. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is expected to hold further meetings with senior party representatives next week before making a final decision on whether to return to Stormont.

The DUP’s 12 party officers met on Friday in what was billed as a crunch meeting to discuss the British government’s latest proposals for resolving the party’s concerns around post-Brexit trade arrangements.

Negotiations between the two are understood to have concluded, with any further engagement focussing on clarification only.

The Daily Telegraph reported that among the concessions offered by the British government was a “patriotic rebrand” of the Irish Sea border.

It said renaming the Windsor Framework’s so-called green lane as the ‘UK internal market lane’ was among the measures tabled by London.

News of the yesterday’s meeting, the venue for which was a tightly-kept secret, was revealed by the BBC’s Stephen Nolan, who is understood to be on holiday in the US.

He claimed a senior DUP source told him the party officers were gathering for a “deal or no deal” meeting, with the leadership pushing for the restoration of devolution.

However, sources within the party’s headquarters have indicated to The Irish News that further meetings are expected to take place before a decision is made on ending its near two-year boycott of the institutions. They also suggested that Mr Nolan’s source was “seeking to destabilise things”.

There is a growing expectation of movement next week but the necessary legislation needs to be put in place at Westminster before the assembly can be recalled and an executive restored.

The DUP made no official comment on Friday’s meeting, which came the day after up to 150,000 public sector workers took part in mass industrial action.

Trade unions have warned of further strikes if public sector pay disputes are not resolved.

The British government £3.3bn package to accompany any restoration of the institutions includes some £600m earmarked to meet the pay increases.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry reacted to the latest flurry of political activity by saying it had “been decision time for the DUP for a long while”.

Negotiations on the Windsor Framework and the financial package are clearly over, he said.

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole (left) and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry
SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole (left) and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole (left) and Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry

“It is in everyone’s interest to have a stable and effective Northern Ireland – the longer this impasse goes on the greater the damage.”

The North Down MP said it would have been easier for the DUP to end its boycott before legislation deferring an assembly election expired at midnight on Thursday.

“With that having passed, it becomes more complicated,” he said.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said it was “time to get the deal done”.

“The fabric of our society – its public services and the public servants who operate them – is close to breaking point,” he said.

“Reasonable people of all backgrounds and political persuasions have been forced to take extraordinary action, particularly over the last 48 hours – it’s time to get the deal done, reward public sector workers, rescue crumbling public services and restore power sharing.”