Northern Ireland

DUP deal reaction ranges from ‘significant step’ to ‘betrayal’ and ‘psychodrama’

A protester checks his mobile phone while standing outside Larchfield Estate where the DUP held a private party meeting on Monday night
Stormont Assembly A protester checks his mobile phone while standing outside Larchfield Estate where the DUP held a private party meeting on Monday night (Liam McBurney/PA)

NEWS that the DUP has finally endorsed a deal to restore power sharing has inevitably split reaction, with hard-line unionists quick to declare it a betrayal while others have welcomed movement after two long years of inertia.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, who has been central to the negotiations in recent months, called it “a welcome and significant step”.

“I am grateful to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and colleagues for the constructive dialogue over the past months and to the other political parties in Northern Ireland for the patience they have shown during this time,” he said.

“I am pleased that the DUP have agreed to accept the package of measures that the UK government has put forward and as a result they are ready to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly and nominate representatives to the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Mr Heaton-Harris has promised a £3.3bn financial package if Stormont is restored and faced strong criticism for refusing to release a portion of it to cover public sector pay disputes.

“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said this is subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK government - I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement,” he added.

“I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return, the parties entitled to form an Executive are meeting today to discuss these matters and I hope to be able to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible.”

Predictably, the TUV leader Jim Allister had a less optimistic assessment.

“Sadly, in betrayal of their own solemn pledges, the DUP has caved in on an Irish Sea border, EU law and the suspension of Article 6. Seems not one word of the Union-dismantling Protocol has been removed,” he wrote on X.

The Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood, who recently confirmed she would seek to take the DUP leader’s Lagan Valley seat in a general election, said the public were sick of the ongoing soap opera surrounding the DUP meetings.

“I really hope we never have to repeat this grim farce again,” she said.

“Other political views than the DUP are available. Hard to stomach such endless wall to wall coverage of psychodrama whilst services crumble.

“Patience has run out. Nowhere else in UK or the south would this be tolerated.”

Her party colleague, Stewart Dickson MLA, also repeated calls from his party to reform the Stormont institutions so that no one party could collapse them again.

At present, power sharing must be comprised of the largest designate of unionists and nationalists.

Although the Alliance have become the third-largest party in Northern Ireland, they do not take a constitutional position.

“After two damaging years of boycott by the DUP they have finally decided that it was an act of futility, as we prepare to fully return to work I am ready to resume my role as a legislator, there is a lot of damage to be undone. Time to reform so it can’t happen again,” he said.

The loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, whose live-tweeting the DUP’s late night meeting was criticised by Sir Jeffrey, labelled those who voted for the deal as “the pro-surrender deal camp”.

There was a more positive take from the Tánaiste Micheál Martin.

“I welcome last night’s decision by the DUP,” he said.

“The imminent return of the Assembly and Executive is good news for the people of Northern Ireland, and the Good Friday Agreement.

“I look forward to working with the Executive and Assembly in the time ahead.”

The SDLP’s south Belfast MP Claire Hanna had a more direct suggestion for the DUP leader.

“Repeat after me Jeffrey : “I’m announcing shortly that we’re going back to work to try to pull Northern Ireland back from the brink of collapse.

“Anyone with a better idea can go and explain it to some overwhelmed medics some night at A&E. Tweet that out ya wee melt”.

There was also an increased expectation of a pay deal for public sector workers, with the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) calling on Mr Heaton-Harris to release funds as a show of good faith.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: “As the largest education union on the island of Ireland, we have long called for the restoration of a functioning government and the payment of monies owed to teachers and other public sector workers.”

He added: “The future of any education system depends on our ability to attract and retain talented teachers. The current pay freeze is making it impossible for us to do so. Teachers are being forced to move overseas to secure a decent standard of pay, leaving our schools facing a significant recruitment and retention challenge.

“The INTO now calls on the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver fair pay for all public servants.”