DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has revealed he was “threatened” over attempts to reach a deal to restore powersharing at Stormont but said he would not be “deflected” from engaging in talks.
Discussions between the DUP and the British government over post-Brexit trading arrangements are continuing.
The Stormont executive has not met in almost two years after the party protested against the post-Brexit trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Speaking today, Sir Jeffrey said: “I’m proud of the service that I have given, unlike some others, to my country when I put on the uniform of the Ulster Defence Regiment to protect everyone in the community from terrorism and violence.
“And yet today, because of the stirring up that is going on, I was threatened – threatened – by those who never put on a uniform, by those who haven’t served our country.”
He added: “They are threatening people like me, whose working day and night to try and find solutions and to move Northern Ireland forward on a basis that the vast majority of people can support.
“Well I would just say this to those who stir up, and those who threaten: the provisional IRA attacked me in the past, and it didn’t deflect me from the task that I have and my colleagues have to do our job and to get the best that we can for Northern Ireland.
“And I will not be deflected now. I will continue on the course. I will continue to engage with the government until we get the progress that is needed to enable us to take a decision about whether it is sufficient to restore the political institutions.”
Earlier today, letters signed by members of the loyalist community urging the DUP to maintain its Stormont boycott were collected from unionist areas ahead of a planned batch delivery to the party.
The “Keep Your Word” template letters have been produced by loyalist advocacy group Let’s Talk Loyalism as part of its campaign against post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The initiative has been launched amid concern within sections of loyalism about the prospect of the DUP agreeing to drop its blockade on devolution and return to powersharing.
‘Keep Your Word’ Letters are being signed at various locations throughout Northern Ireland tonight urging political unionism to stand firm and stick to its mandate. This is just one of the areas in East Belfast this evening. pic.twitter.com/FNpG252lyZ
— Let’s Talk Loyalism (@TalkLoyalism) January 23, 2024
It appears the DUP is approaching the moment to make a final call on the British government’s proposed measures, with speculation mounting that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will attempt to convince senior colleagues to back a return to powersharing.
Let’s Talk Loyalism has insisted the boycott should only be lifted once all the economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.
It says the DUP secured its mandate in the 2022 Assembly election with a similar stance on the so-called Irish Sea border, and has called on the party to stand by that position and not accept any deal that does not fully dismantle the contentious trading arrangements.
One of several letter-signing sessions arranged by the group this week was held at Carrickfergus Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club.
Lindsay Graham (40) from the Castlemara estate in the Co Antrim town, was one of those who put her signature to a letter.
“I am here because I am from a working-class unionist community and I’m a bit concerned about the political situation that’s happening in Northern Ireland at the minute,” she said.
“So I’ve come along to show my support to my fellow unionists in wanting the DUP to stay strong in their stance of not going back into Stormont.
“I signed that letter just because we want the DUP to know that we sent them in with a mandate not to go back into Stormont.”
She added: “I’m hoping that it’ll give the DUP the resolve to stand up to the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) to show that their electorate are still behind them and nothing has changed within the unionist community in regards to our position on the protocol, or the Windsor Framework.”
Ms Graham said she is concerned that the DUP is preparing to end its boycott, and warned the party that a Stormont return would damage it electorally.
“I feel so strongly about this issue because I feel that the principle of consent is being undermined from the Good Friday Agreement,” she added.
“I think it interferes with our constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK.
“I think that the protocol and the Windsor Framework is designed to strangle the life out of Northern Ireland, to strengthen ties with the Republic of Ireland and to severe ties with GB.
“I believe that it’s going to make it more attractive in the long term to trade with the Republic, and then make it more attractive to businesses and consumers to a united Ireland in the long run.
“The DUP needs to stay strong, the Secretary of State needs to take our concerns on board. We are an integral part of the United Kingdom.
“I just feel like our whole community is being undermined, I feel we are being sold down the river once again by the British government.”