Deirdre Heenan: The DUP's dream of Brexit purity is making us all suffer. It's time to face them down

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson pictured after meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this month. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson pictured after meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this month. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Commenting on the catastrophic data breach by the PSNI, Sir Jeffery Donaldson stated that the police should not be "left leaderless" while the issue was being investigated.

Without a hint of irony, he stressed the importance of leadership to ensure stability. More than 18 months since the DUP collapsed the power-sharing institutions, the north is in no man's land, limping on without a government in the hellish space we now refer to as indirect direct rule.

Once again we are entirely at the mercy of an at best disinterested and at worst malign Conservative government. Optimists claim that Stormont will be restored in the autumn as a pathway will emerge for the DUP to return to power-sharing. How realistic is this?

Unlike other periods of collapse there are no official all-party talks, none of the theatrics of the political parties marching up the hill to Stormont Castle to meet the representatives of both governments. Apparently, there are talks between the DUP and the Westminster government but these are shrouded in secrecy. Who is meeting and on what basis remains unclear. What status these talks have is also difficult to ascertain.

Added to this is the fact that is far from clear what exactly the DUP want. The much discussed eight-person panel on the Windsor Framework have passed their verdict on its contents but we remain in the dark about their conclusions.

The DUP leader has repeatedly stated that he wants legislation to guarantee Northern Ireland's place in the Union. But what would that Statutory Instrument actually say? Are they really seeking a form of words which would secure their future in the United Kingdom? This is completely absurd on so many levels and would of course fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement.

The British government have repeatedly made clear that the Windsor Framework is a done deal, and they have no intention of re-opening discussions with the EU. Despite the DUP threats and demands, the Framework is being implemented.

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Despite Donaldson's insistence just weeks ago that the party were united and speaking with one voice, the internal factionalism cannot be glossed over. Some of the big beasts of the party are adamant that there will be no return to power-sharing until the British government meet the demands of the party.

They have zero interest in reviving the power-sharing arrangements. Senior figures continue to froth at a perceived sell out by the British government. At the end of July Nigel Dodds published a detailed statement in response to a report by the House of Lords setting out how the Windsor Framework "utterly fails" the DUP's seven tests. According to his analysis it "represents the embedding of the Irish Sea border to a greater extent than anything we have seen thus far".

One might be tempted to feel some sympathy for the DUP leader who is being held hostage by intransigent irreconcilables. Don't. These difficulties are entirely the consequences of the hard Brexit they championed.

It seems increasing likely that the DUP will continue to sit on their hands and brazen it out until after next year's general election – a strategy that offers little to the party, other than buying time. The DUP have few friends in Westminster and a Labour government is unlikely to give them a favourable hearing. Donaldson is under no pressure from within his party or from the Westminster government to get a functioning government back up and running.

Sunak is content to allow this position of drift to continue indefinitely. Why would he want to take on these intransigent unionists when there are no votes in it for him? Occasional soundbites about restoring Stormont appear to be the extent to which he wishes to get involved.

Despite the fact that there is no sign that Donaldson has any intention of moving away from this current obstructionist stance, the Prime Minister has shown little interest in ending their grandstanding. The party's opposition to the Windsor Framework does not give it the right to thwart the democratic process. The governance gap in the north is a national disgrace but has become somehow acceptable.

Prior to his recent visit to Belfast Leo Varadkar told the Financial Times that there has been "a reluctance" in Downing Street to work with the Irish government on the restoration of Stormont. You don't say. Sunak has treated the Taoiseach as though he were the chair of a parish council in the Outer Hebrides.

Brexit has soured Anglo-Irish relations. The previous approach of working hand in glove to encourage and facilitate power-sharing is notable by its absence. Following his meetings with the five political parties Varadkar said that the Irish and British governments must create a plan B if the Executive is not re-established in the near future.

He has been frozen out and is no longer content to stay silent. Taking a more active stance in response to the political impasse is a welcome intervention. There is no sign of any political movement from the DUP and many have grown weary of this tedious prevarication.

We are not inching towards a deal and the couldn't-care-less attitude from the British government is risible. We are not standing still, ticking over nor treading water; the current deadlock means that we are regressing. Waiting lists are getting longer, patients are getting sicker, people are dying prematurely.

If the DUP are hell-bent on self-destruction by clinging to their dream of Brexit purity, the rest of us should not be forced to suffer the consequences. Time to face them down.