The DUP: Will they; won’t they? Oh yes, they will; oh no, they won’t?

The Stormont saga; not so much a pantomime, even with a ‘dastardly’’ Secretary of State prepared to push ethical standards of governance to the margins, as another act in a tragi-comedy.

It awaits key players to perform their designated roles.

In 2020, when the Julian Smith MP and Simon Coveney TD crafted New Decade, New Approach led to the resumption of the NI Assembly, the public response, beyond the political arena, was muted and underwhelming.

Not unlike the faces and body language of many of the DUP MLAs sitting behind Gordon Lyons MLA during the recent attempt to recall the Assembly.

Not a happy look.

Is there much cause to feel any different this time if the DUP, with a growing proportion of its support now believing its tactics have run out of road, eventually signs up for yet another attempt to breathe life into a peace process, increasingly discredited by the politics which pertain?

Until a deal is agreed, judgement has to be delayed but pre-Christmas expectations were high.

Well-placed sources were reporting that had it not been for an internal leak which enabled TUV leader Jim Allister MLA and others to round on a DUP leadership ready to re-enter Stormont, a deal was in place.

Apparently, talks included the appointment of a Speaker and other arrangements.

Mike Nesbitt MLA of the UUP would have reason to be disappointed. Diane Dodds, MLA less the case; if rumours are to be believed.

Might help to bring ‘hubby’ on board?

It would not be surprising if the DUP’s main Executive partners were in the loop; to ensure Sinn Féin compliance and approval.

It is unlikely that this would present as a difficulty with an election looming in Dublin Michelle O’Neill MLA, with intent or otherwise, in presidential mode as First Minister designate and the Exchequer about to make finance available for Northern Ireland.

How much of this is new is debateable but the optics look good; not the first attempt to paper over the cracks.

Now, it seems the immediate chances of Stormont resuming on the basis of the DUP signing up to a deal have receded, at least temporarily. The circumstances are not dissimilar to the Draft Deal which the DUP agreed – later denied- on the Irish Language Act only for the ‘deal’ to unravel over a weekend.

Clearly leading today’s DUP and its communal confidantes is like herding feral cats.

Broad churches only work when everyone is prepared to sing harmoniously from the same song sheet.

O God our help in ages past’ has not been heard from DUP voices for some time; not even the ancestral ones.

Too big a likelihood of public disharmony perhaps.

There are not many, if any, of those who identify as Unionist, Loyalist or pro-Union -Leavers and Remainers – happy with the NI Protocol and its enigmatic successor, the Windsor Framework.

This is clear from private and public conversations.

Feelings influence political judgements and whilst it is accepted that access to two markets could offer economic opportunities, there is deep unease at what are seen as post-Brexit arrangements which fail to address the root cause of problems already evident and anticipated.

The failure to deliver unfettered trade, North/South and East/West, whilst skewing the economy towards the European Single Market and insisting on border checks within the UK internal market, allied to lack of any meaningful engagement with rule-making in Brussels and unfolding current and future potential divergence from trading regulations and deals which may apply to Great Britain only, continue to arouse feelings of the principle of consent and the 3 strand balance of the Good Friday Agreement undermined.

Rishi Sunak’s choreographed appearance before the Coca-Cola cans in Lisburn did little to assuage concerns. As details emerge to show the limitations of the Stormont Brake the Prime Minister’s ‘utterly butterly’ approach to politics aka Boris Johnston, once his closest neighbour, is further exposed.

A Common Travel area which allows unfettered access to the UK and shoppers resident in the Republic buying restricted goods to take into the EU does spark resentment at a lack of similar grounded flexibility within Brussel’s prescriptive ideology when applied to Northern Ireland.

It’s the continuance of an approach adopted since 2016; supported by Dublin and Washington.

The claim that the aim is to protect the Good Friday Agreement and promote peace and reconciliation, no longer stacks up.

It’s a management model which has clearly produced feelings of lack of consideration and respect.

Brussels is looking in unacceptable silence through the wrong end of the telescope yet shows little inclination to re-engage with a flawed solution that is only going to tumble into crisis after crisis

This has got lost against the decision-making of a Secretary of State who often cites his experience as a referee, yet seems unable to get the Stormont teams on the pitch whilst red-carding a pay award for public service workers.

In all probability, he is prevented by his bosses at Westminster who cling to the mantra that Brexit is done.

As long as the Windsor Framework is in play and the United Kingdom refuses to acknowledge the benefits of closer economic, social, scientific and educational linkage with Brussels, this will not be the case.

The Framework facilitates a trading process and has no fixed points.

The DUP too are letting the EU off the hook by allowing the context of the current impasse to shift from the problems with the Windsor Framework to the dysfunction at Stormont.

Like Sinn Féin before them, their only tactical solution to exiting the corner into which they have boxed themselves is to privatise the NI Assembly for party interests.

If their claims of insecurity and fear are genuine, they are questionable allies.

The resulting paranoia is serving to disconnect many from political unionism which risks entering into a period of drift similar to the years following the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

It is not a good place for Unionism to be.

Unionism may not welcome the fact but the Windsor Framework, flawed and problematic as it is, was approved overwhelmingly at Westminster.

It has to be worked, until it doesn’t.

Evidence will come.

DUP tactics have gone as far as they can go. It is time for the party as the self-proclaimed leader of Unionism to face its limitations and establish fresh ground from which to move forward.

The only option is to return to Stormont without prejudice to its position on the Windsor Framework; a Westminster-Brussels agreement.

The Framework is a concern for Unionism that needs addressed but not at the cost of worsening conditions in the public services and the economy; spiralling out of control.

Time to re-visit the deal on the table pre-Christmas and get back to work.

Unionism needs to re-discover a sense of purpose and adapt to the new reality in which it finds itself.

For the moment that is the imperative to which the DUP needs to respond.

For those in the party inclined to resist, apparently the Maldives is a pleasant destination and highly recommended.

Isn’t there someone in the party from North Antrim who has been there?


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