Opinion

The boycott has failed. Donaldson needs to get the DUP back to Stormont – now

The Irish News view: This week's school and transport strikes highlight the pressures on our public services

Is DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about to make the call that will end his party's boycott and allow Stormont to return?
Is DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about to make the call that will end his party's boycott and allow Stormont to return? Is DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about to make the call that will end his party's boycott and allow Stormont to return?

After 21 long and dismal months in which its Stormont boycott has achieved, by its own assessment, precisely none of its aims, it must be dawning on even the DUP's most antediluvian fantasists that it is time to acquaint itself with today's political realities.

It should do so before 2023 becomes 2024. More delay can only mean more harm to our ailing and under-pressure public services. The huff which started over the NI Protocol in February 2022 has gone on for far too long. As this newspaper has consistently pointed out, the only sane outcome for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and his party is to get back to power-sharing.

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That was also the case nine months ago when Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen struck the Windsor Framework. It addressed many of the legitimate concerns held by the DUP and others over post-Brexit trading arrangements. One wonders if Sir Jeffrey and his more reasonable colleagues now wish they had pocketed that deal at the time and returned to Stormont.

But that is wishful thinking. The galloping sense of entitlement, such a hallmark of unionist politics since partition, means that a party which won a little over 20% of the vote at the last assembly election believes its narrow self-interest trumps the greater good.

That same mindset means the DUP will never accept its role in facilitating the charlatan Boris Johnson or take a scintilla of responsibility for Brexit and the haplessness of its own strategy.

Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris at Farmleigh House, Dublin on Tuesday for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA
Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris at Farmleigh House, Dublin on Tuesday for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris at Farmleigh House, Dublin on Tuesday for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA

We are now left with the unedifying spectacle of Chris Heaton-Harris, yet another ineffective secretary of state, going through the charade of negotiations with the DUP. These have reached "final final" stages, he said on Tuesday after the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting in Dublin.

The British government has allowed this ludicrous situation to fester, yet rather than target the DUP with an ultimatum, Mr Heaton-Harris has instead inflicted the latest iteration of Tory austerity on us all.

It is appalling that while it fixates on the arcane detail of a trade deal, the DUP seems content to let our public services suffer – for example, teachers are on strike on Wednesday, with Translink staff taking action on Friday.

Meanwhile, MLAs continue to be paid and the apparatus at Parliament Buildings, intended to support a working assembly, remains in place, costing £30 million since the boycott started.

Many readers will identify with the ordeal Linda Ervine experienced during a 10-hour wait at the Ulster Hospital's emergency department, and the lack of GP provision that is contributing to the crisis in our hospitals. Health and social care reform is yet another area in which Stormont has failed.

We all deserve better, starting with a functioning assembly and executive.