Leading article

Collapsing Stormont would be another catastrophic DUP error

Concerns over the survival of our power-sharing administration are growing after the astonishing meltdown experienced by the DUP, still marginally Stormont's largest group, over recent days.

First minister Paul Givan, who was only appointed last week, is expected to resign as soon as a new DUP leader is chosen, which could be as early as tomorrow if Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is the only candidate.

Mr Givan's exit necessitates at least the temporary departure of Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill as deputy first minister, and there will be a firm expectation that all the main parties work closely together in the coming days to ensure that devolution can survive in its present form

The DUP in particular needs to be aware of the enormous risks it faces if it caves in to pressures from fringe loyalist elements to withdraw from its partnership arrangements with nationalists.

Sinister suggestions from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which claims to represent the illegal UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando organisations, that Dublin ministers and officials were not longer welcome north of the border until they `accept and repair the damage they have created', graphically illustrated the dangers which exist across the board.

It needs to be stressed that face to face discussions between the British and Irish governments, together with the key Stormont figures, remain essential.

The introduction of an Irish Sea border was an inevitable consequence of the Brexit debacle which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the DUP and was part of the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and Boris Johnson.

Loyalists are fully entitled to make their feelings clear to Mr Johnson, but issuing blatant threats against Irish government representatives is completely unacceptable and should be immediately rejected by mainstream unionist figures.

If the DUP instead walks away from power-sharing, it must surely realise, as this newspaper and a range of other voices have regularly pointed out, that it can only return to the negotiating table in a weaker position.

An early Assembly election looks increasingly likely, and all the indications are that the DUP would lose seats across the board and ensure that Ms O'Neill would be in line for the first minister's role.

The DUP gives the impression of stumbling from one crisis to another, and collapsing Stormont would probably represent its most serious error of judgment to date during a catastrophic period for the party.

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