DUP threats could permanently end devolution

When the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) agreement was confirmed at Stormont two years ago yesterday, there were genuine hopes that the result would be the restoration of a partnership administration which would work positively for the entire community.

Unfortunately, while mistakes were subsequently made on all sides, vicious internal upheavals in the DUP have undermined the executive to such a degree that a further suspension, which may well bring it to a permanent end, is being widely predicted.

The party's latest leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, made one of his regular hints on Friday about a withdrawal of his ministers while preparing for what he has described as a `very important' meeting with the British foreign secretary Liz Truss later this week.

Ms Truss, who campaigned for remain in the EU referendum but swiftly reinvented herself as a firm Brexiteer, yesterday raised the possibility that she might attempt to unilaterally override key elements of the protocol which Boris Johnson endorsed in 2019.

Whether the UK is really prepared to blatantly renege on a binding international agreement which offers huge economic benefits remains to be seen, but the reality is that poor political judgment has left Mr Donaldson in an unenviable position in any event.

He effectively faces a choice between taking the grossly irresponsible step of collapsing Stormont at a crucial stage in a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions or branding himself as a weak leader who can be safely ignored by the British and Irish governments.

It is abundantly clear that the protocol was the inevitable consequence of the Brexit disaster which the DUP firstly helped to create and then compounded by astonishingly concluding that Mr Johnson was a prime minister to be trusted.

In addition to his protocol threats, Mr Donaldson has also implied that he could walk out over the long delayed implementation of Irish language legislation which was a key element in the NDNA, as well as refusing to acknowledge that he would be prepared to share power with a democratically elected Sinn Féin first minister.

Most people in our divided society, whether they are from a nationalist, unionist or unaligned background, would still like our devolved structures to prosper.

If the DUP decides otherwise, and insists that, rather than bringing a new approach, the new decade is going to be accompanied by entirely outdated attitudes, some fundamental reappraisals will have to follow across the board.