Northern Ireland

Crunch DUP meeting to discuss Stormont return

Leaked email reveals Jeffrey Donaldson will provide ‘detailed update’ to members following ongoing negotiations over Stormont impasse

The DUP said threats against party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson have been reported to the PSNI
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will update party executive members on progress over the Stormont impasse in a meeting on Monday evening. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Members of the DUP’s party executive are to meet on Monday evening in what is expected to be a heated summit discussing a possible return to Stormont following leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s negotiations with the British government.

The meeting comes amid speculation a decision is close on whether Mr Donaldson will agree to a return to power-sharing after the DUP’s two-year boycott of the Stormont Executive over the Northern Ireland Protocol and its resulting Irish Sea border.

A loyalist poster against a border in the Irish Sea on a wall in the Village area of south Belfast PICTURE MAL MCCANN
A sign opposing the Irish Sea border in the loyalist Village area of south Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

An internal email sent to the party executive members was leaked on the X social media platform on Friday, and said the meeting was to allow Mr Donaldson to “provide a detailed update on the current political situation”.

Mr Donaldson has led ongoing talks with the British government over the Windsor Framework deal between the UK and EU on post-Brexit trading arrangements between the north and Great Britain.

Last Friday, DUP MLA Edwin Poots said the party had been working “extremely hard” to resolve the Stormont impasse, and speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, said the DUP would not go back to Stormont after the boycott “with nothing”, adding: “People need to reflect on that”.

On Wednesday, Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson gave a fiery speech in the House of Commons in which he criticised those within unionism who remain opposed to any return to Stormont under the terms of the Windsor Framework.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking in the house of Commons with Ian Paisley sitting behind
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gave an impassioned speech last week at Westminster in which he rounded on his critics within unionism.

The speech, in which he revealed he had been “threatened”, was seen as the strongest signal yet that a deal is imminent.

However, opposition to an agreement remains both within the DUP and among hardline unionists including Jim Allister’s TUV.

Unionist opponents are against any return to power-sharing without the removal of trading barriers caused by the Irish Sea border.

On Saturday, Mr Allister said unionism was facing a “defining moment” that will “set Northern Ireland’s course for years to come”.

TUV leader Jim Allister. Picture: Hugh Russell
TUV leader Jim Allister. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL

“Either NI will embark on transition out of the UK by unionists implementing the template designed for that purpose, the Protocol, or unionism will hold the line and refuse to put its hand to its own destruction,” he said.

“This is a decision so momentous as to rise above questions of party loyalty.”

He added: “If the worst happens and the DUP gives up the fight, then all who see the issues need to stand together.”

An Orange lodge in Co Down, which includes former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland and ex-party councillor Nathan Anderson, has written to Sir Jeffrey urging him not to sign up to any deal which leaves Northern Ireland “a place apart and a colony of the EU”.

The letter from The Cross of St Patrick LOL 688, reported in the Belfast Telegraph, states: “There can be no restrictions or checks on goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is unconstitutional never mind having serious economic repercussions given how much we rely on trade back and forth within the British Isles”.

The DUP is also facing pressure to accept a deal in order to access a £3.3 billion financial package offered by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, which is dependent on the return of power-sharing.

The package includes £600m to help settle public sector pay claims.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has called on the DUP to make a final decision on returning to form an Executive.

Senior TD Pearse Doherty told RTÉ: “We’ve been here so many times, there’s been so many false dawns when it comes to the DUP, and the DUP really need to end this blockade of this Assembly and accept the fact that people in the Assembly election (in May 2022) voted for change and the dynamics are changing and have changed in the north.”

He added: “This is really about the elections that happened and the fact that Michelle O’Neill is First Minister designate and the DUP need to accept the outcome of a democratic election and get down to business with us and the rest of us in the Assembly and start delivering for the people in the north and beyond.”