IT WAS a speech that history may well remember as a watershed moment for the DUP.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, lambasted in recent months for dithering and indecisiveness, rounded on unionism’s naysayers and dissenters with a Westminster address that teemed not only with anger and frustration but a clear determination to lead his party back into Stormont.
In 30 years of watching Jeffrey Donaldson, rarely have I seen him being quite so impassioned, emotional and unscripted. pic.twitter.com/zTSgctQX6Z— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) January 24, 2024
As MPs voted to extend the deadline for restoring devolution to February 8, the Lagan Valley MP gave the strongest signal yet that he plans to push party colleagues over the coming days for a restoration of the power-sharing institutions.
Known for his cordial and mild-mannered demeanour, Sir Jeffrey yesterday displayed some uncharacteristic mettle as he attacked unionist rivals from the green benches, accusing a “tiny minority” of wishing Stormont dead.
The jibes at internal critics were opaque but he showed no such subtlety in vilifying those he shared platforms with at anti-protocol rallies less than two years ago.
Jim Allister’s TUV was singled out for securing “not a single thing” in changing the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
The DUP leader also revealed that he had faced threats for engaging with the British government over recent months.
He said others were attempting to “orchestrate opposition to a deal that has not yet taken place”.
Sir Jeffrey’s impassioned speech came as anti-protocol campaigners gathered signatures for pre-printed letters urging the DUP to maintain its Stormont boycott.
Produced by the Let’s Talk Loyalism group, the ‘Keep Your Word’ template letters have been distributed in unionist areas ahead of a planned batch delivery to the party.
However, there is a growing expectation that the Stormont institutions will be restored in the coming days.
The Lagan Valley MP must first gain the support of the 12 DUP party officers, before an agreed resolution will be put to a full DUP executive meeting, with Friday February 2 earmarked as the most likely date.
If Sir Jeffrey secures the necessary support, the assembly and executive could be restored the following week.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris described those who had sought to threaten Sir Jeffrey as “cowards and idiots”.
Speaking in Parliament, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey condemned those behind the attempts at intimidation.
The peer said: “The question is what did they ever achieve? What did they ever get us? More misery, more deaths and destruction, no progress. So if anything has come out of all of this, it is that is not the way to go forward.”
Expressing her shock, former first minister and DUP leader Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee, said: “It appears that there is nothing new under the sun.
“These people who hide in the shadows and use the internet, in the way that we have talked about on so many occasions, seek to do damage and to push things in a particular way.
“I send my solidarity to Sir Jeffrey and I am sure the whole House will want to echo that in respect of the threats that he has received.”
Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine said: “I know I speak for all members of this House when we pass on our support for him (Sir Jeffrey) and wish him well.”
On the prospect of an agreement, he added: “Of course we all want to see progress within the next fortnight. At the moment there is no deal. We very much hope there will be one in the space of time this legislation provides.”