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Editorial: Questions over DUP leader's judgment

SIR Jeffrey Donaldson's calamitous voyage of undiscovery over Brexit has suffered another embarrassing encounter with reality, in an episode which once again calls into question the DUP leader's judgment in his approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Last month, a dogmatic Sir Jeffrey spoke publicly about how the protocol was to blame for disruptions in life-saving heart surgery in Belfast – a claim flatly denied by the Belfast trust, which said the DUP leader's claim was without substance.

Unbowed, Sir Jeffrey insisted there had been a protocol-related problem, but that it had in fact involved the Southern trust.

This was a mistake too, as the Southern trust explained when it set the record straight. There had been faults with a particular piece of equipment in its cardiac catheterisation service, it said. The replacement parts were unable to be sourced in Britain or Ireland, so the trust turned to the manufacturer, Siemens, which – evidently unhindered by the protocol – shipped the necessary components from Germany.

If it is disappointing that a politician of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's experience did not check with either health trust before dragging them and their patients into a narrow political argument without merit, then it is positively alarming that his allegations were – as he has belatedly admitted – "not entirely accurate".

And despite having got his story entirely wrong, Sir Jeffrey now gives the impression that the Southern trust was somehow to blame. "They have apologised that the information I was given was inaccurate," he said, as if the whole affair was somehow at its instigation and that Sir Jeffrey was the injured party. A swifter and fulsome apology from the DUP leader would have been more appropriate.

The DUP's vision of Brexit has always been a fantasy. Now it is resorting to phantom arguments to support its opposition to the protocol – an outcome it facilitated – while denying us a government at Stormont.

There are difficulties with the protocol, a fact readily acknowledged by the EU and the British government, who should reach a negotiated agreement. But it is difficult to know what contribution the DUP are making to the future, other than spreading inaccuracies and raising fears.

Those working in our health and social care system deserve better than to be treated as political footballs by Sir Jeffrey and the party which has left us mired in a maelstrom as we face into an acutely difficult winter.

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