Leading article

Jeffrey Donaldson enters defining period

The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, confirmed in a Christmas message that he has been suffering from covid over the holiday period, so it will be widely hoped that he makes a full recovery from the condition.

Mr Donaldson said his symptoms had been mild to date, something he attributed to having been properly vaccinated, and his comments understandably concentrated on the need to secure increased support for all those who have been affected by the pandemic.

The overall tone of his contribution was entirely reasonable, and he was right to stress the importance of the booster programme and to strongly praise the work of health service staff at all levels.

However, in many ways his statement was more striking for what it did not say, particularly when he declared that the threat to public health was real and should not be underestimated, but failed to call out the siren voices which have tried to undermine firm scientific advice.

Mr Donaldson must know that his authority will be fatally undermined if he does not specifically condemn the ludicrous contributions of Sammy Wilson without delay.

The DUP leader also spoke of the `pain of watching those who believe they are above the rules', but did not mention the person who has epitomised such an approach year after year - his former ally Boris Johnson.

Possibly the most notable aspect of his statement came when he declared that he was working to `get a better deal from Brussels' but entirely avoided any direct reference to the protocol arrangements which he previously demanded had to be removed as a matter of urgency.

It will be remembered that, just over three months ago, Mr Donaldson insisted that his party would walk out of Stormont within weeks, thereby bringing down the power-sharing administration in the middle of a major health crisis, if his demands were not met.

In the Irish state papers from 1998, which were released yesterday, a former Ulster Unionist colleague described Mr Donaldson as the sort of person who would `blow with the wind' while a senior Irish diplomat offered the different view that he was capable of moving unionism away from its `instinctive tendency to focus on the negative.'

As he enters a defining stage in his political career, the DUP leader has an opportunity to display which of those two conflicting assessments was the correct one.

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