The UK government must “act decisively” on the North’s special EU trade status before the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) can return to the Belfast power-sharing government.
hat was the strong message from DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson ahead of Thursday’s general election in the north. The DUP leader brushed aside the results of opinion polls over the weekend that suggested Sinn Féin would become the first nationalist party, the largest in Stormont and a token claim to the First Minister post.
There is intense speculation that the DUP would refuse to rejoin power-sharing under a Sinn Féin leader, but Mr Donaldson insisted he looks forward to leading the DUP into a new Stormont government – provided , the so-called EU-Brexit-Protocol is handled by London.
The DUP leader said he was confident the UK government would “take decisive action to deal with the issues surrounding the protocol” after the general election.
The London Government has already pledged to roll back protocol legislation requiring controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea to the north, and that pledge could be reiterated in the Queen’s speech at the opening of a new parliamentary session on May 10 .
Mr Donaldson said that “it will then allow us to get the executive branch functioning properly again”.
In an interview with the Press Association news agency ahead of Election Day, Mr Donaldson said he would be available immediately after the election to sit down with the other parties to agree on a government program and budget. The Belfast executive was unable to function fully in February when DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in protest at the EU protocol.
Unionists oppose post-Brexit trade rules with extra controls on goods arriving from the UK creating “a border in the Irish Sea”. Mr Donaldson argued that people recognize that the DUP’s actions were “measured and proportionate”.
“We didn’t let Stormont collapse, the ministers in the departments remain in place, the Assembly was able to continue to legislate until the election,” he said.
“But we just couldn’t carry on pretending everything was fine, it isn’t and the Protocol is damaging to our economy, it undermines political stability in Northern Ireland, it has changed our constitutional status as part of the UK and we can don’t ignore these things, so we wanted to get to the point.
“I want to take the DUP to an executive, but we need to address the issues around protocol.
“That needs to be solved, that needs to be solved now, and that’s what I’ll focus on immediately after the election, alongside discussions with other parties about a government program and the budget.”
A weekend poll for the Belfast Telegraph suggested that Sinn Féin could make history when votes are counted by becoming Ireland’s first nationalist or republican party to become the largest in Stormont.
This would mean that Sinn Féin would be entitled to appoint a first minister for the first time. However, Mr Donaldson stressed he believes the DUP will win the election and is targeting wins in West Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone. While he had previously refused to commit to appointing a deputy first minister to work with a Sinn Féin first minister, he insisted his party could work with them.
“I think people, at least on the union side, are realizing the importance of a unionized first minister,” he said.
“That’s not to say we can’t work with Sinn Féin and the other parties in the executive branch, we have done that and will continue to do so, but at the end of the day I think most political parties go to an election to do so win, and the DUP entered this election to win.”
Mr Donaldson also defended his participation in anti-protocol rallies. Political rivals have expressed concern about the rallies “raising the temperature”, but he said “real people’s concerns” need to be heard.
“I think it’s very important that we take leadership and I’m not willing to join the silence of voices, voices that may be hard to hear but still need to be heard,” he said.
“If people want to protest lawfully and peacefully, that is their democratic right and I will uphold that right.
“I think leadership is about standing up and talking to people and listening to them, even people you might disagree with.
“Throughout my political career I’ve found that I’ve shared platforms with people and I may not always agree with everything they say, they probably won’t agree with everything I say, but we need to listen to each other .
“We need to listen to people’s genuine concerns and I want to make sure that where there is resistance to the protocol, where people want to protest, we provide a platform that allows them to do so peacefully and lawfully and I think this is the way to go in terms of opposition to the protocol.
Meanwhile, after a bloody 2021, when former DUP leader Arlene Foster resigned before her successor Edwin Poots also resigned, Mr Donaldson said the party was “much more united now” under his leadership.
He said he had campaigned for Mr Poots, who had moved to the South Belfast constituency following the sudden death of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, adding he was very pleased with the reception his colleague was getting.
While the DUP has traditionally been strongly associated with the Free Presbyterian Church, Donaldson said the party is a “very broad church” and “very representative of the broader unionist community.”
“Of course its core values remain, but I think it’s also a party that has ideas and a vision for Northern Ireland, which we have outlined in our five-point plan, which I think has a lot of support, across the community . ” he said.
“People are recognizing in this election that it is a clear choice between the leadership of the DUP and our five-point plan to fix the NHS, improve our education system, create jobs for our young people, working families and households in trouble with the cost of living and the removal of the Irish Sea border, and of course Sinn Féin’s divisive border interrogation plan.
“It’s a clear election and I think the DUP is on track to win this election.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/dups-jeffrey-donaldson-rejects-poll-predictions-of-sinn-fein-election-win-41607707.html DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson dismisses poll forecasts of Sinn Féin winning the election