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DUP urged to step off ‘endless merry-go-round’ and return to Stormont

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (right) speaking to Pearse Doherty during a party meeting in Dundalk (Liam McBurney/PA)
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (right) speaking to Pearse Doherty during a party meeting in Dundalk (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sinn Fein has called on the DUP to step off the “endless merry-go-round” of its Stormont boycott and return to powersharing in Northern Ireland.

The comments from senior Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty came ahead of a crunch meeting of the DUP’s 130-strong party executive on Monday evening to discuss a potential deal with the Government that could see devolution resurrected in Belfast.

The DUP has maintained an almost two-year boycott of the Stormont institutions in protest at the Brexit-linked economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Stormont Assembly
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will address members of his party executive on Monday night (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP has been involved in protracted talks with the Government aimed at securing concessions on the arrangements that would address its concerns around trade and sovereignty.

It appears the DUP is approaching the moment to make a final call on the Government’s proposed measures.

An invite to the short notice executive meeting was issued on Friday. It said the gathering would see party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson provide a “detailed update on the current political situation”.

If Sir Jeffrey presses for an acceptance of the Government’s proposals and a Stormont return, he is expected to face stiff opposition from some unionists, both inside and outside his party, who believe the boycott should only end once all the economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.

Mr Doherty said the time had come for the DUP to make a decision.

“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 told RTE.

“We have to get off this endless merry-go-round in relation to ‘will they, won’t they?’.”

He added: “They should absolutely jump but the British government needs to stop facilitating them, they’ve told us that the negotiations are over.

“And they (the DUP) need to get back into the Assembly. There’s nothing more to talk about.

“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.”

Stormont Assembly
TUV leader Jim Allister said opponents of the Northern Ireland Protocol needed to come together and stand firm (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Friday, senior DUP MLA and former party leader Edwin Poots criticised some other unionists who have accused his party of being “traitors”.

“Why would we have done what we’ve done for the last two years and go back with nothing, and people should reflect on that,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

On Saturday evening, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party Jim Allister, one of those calling for the DUP to maintain its blockade, urged opponents of the post-Brexit trading arrangements to stand firm.

“Unionism is facing a defining moment,” he said. “A moment of decision that will set Northern Ireland’s course for years to come.

“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.

“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.”