Northern Ireland

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson points to future ‘realignment’ within unionism

Doug Beattie and Jeffrey Donaldson. Unionist parties are expected to meet the cost of installing the Stormont stone
Doug Beattie (left) and Sir Jeffrey Donaldso

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has signalled desire to work more closely with the Ulster Unionists and suggested there may greater “realignment” between the two parties in future.

The DUP leader was speaking ahead of Thursday night’s ‘Future of Unionism’ debate at Queen’s University Belfast.

Organised jointly by the university’s Ulster Unionist and DUP student associations, the debate will see Sir Jeffrey and Doug Beattie set out their respective “vision for Northern Ireland”.

On Wednesday night, the DUP leader told an audience of party members in Newry and Armagh that a “demographic and political shift is taking place before our eyes”.

“Either we close our eyes and ignore it, or we recognise that we are no longer in a place where 70% of the population are red, white and blue British,” he said

The Lagan Valley MP, who earlier this month faced down hardliners in his own party by pushing for a restoration of the Stormont institutions, said a fully functioning assembly was the best way to build support for the union.

A general view of Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate area
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a fully functioning assembly was the best way to build support for the union (Liam McBurney/PA)

He argued that decisions made today “will either grow support for Northern Ireland or will cede ground to the enemies of the union”.

Sir Jeffrey said that the coming generations “will determine the union’s longevity” and not a parliament or court.

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Talkback on Thursday, the DUP leader and one-time Ulster Unionist said it was possible unionism’s two largest parties would come together in the future.

“It’s not where we are at the moment, we recognise that the Ulster Unionist Party is a distinct political movement with a long history but we’re willing to work with them and I think we there are many things we could do together,” he said.

“Having served in both parties in the past and knowing both parties, and having friends in both parties, friendships that have gone back many years, I would like to see people working more closely together.”

He said the starting point for greater co-operation was the parties “common ground in unionism”.

“It’s about making the case for the union, looking at how we can work together more effectively and getting more unionists out to vote, and winning more seats, whether that’s at Westminster, the assembly, or in local government – in the end, that may lead to a realignment,” he said.