The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland has a new leader after four weeks of organized chaos. But as Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the new party leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP (Photo), has a mountain to climb to sort out serious issues that could ultimately threaten his own tenure as divided DUP leader while opponents Sinn Féin count the days until next year’s Assembly elections.
An optimist might say “the crisis is over”, while a pessimist might say “this is just the beginning”.
This is the delicate dilemma the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party faces as it tries to rise from the muddy political ground after the most self-inflicted bruises in its 50 years of existence.
Last Saturday, the Party executive voted 32-4 to elect MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as its fifth leader since 1971 but, more interestingly, its third leader since May 14.e!
This followed the coup against Arlene Foster led by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots over his decision to abstain in a vote to ban gay conversion therapy!
21 days after Poots ousted her from the top post, he too was forced to resign under humiliating circumstances after agreeing to the UK government’s proposals to introduce an Irish language law without consulting party colleagues who were furious with the decision!
The new 58-year-old DUP leader of Lagan Valley constituency has inherited an organizational mess.
Even though he is party leader but without a seat in Stormont’s Parliament, he must retain Poots’ selection of Paul Givan as prime minister, something he says he can live with for the foreseeable future but which leaves it somewhat out of the way. loop when it comes to dealing with Boris Johnson in London, Micheál Martin in Dublin and Ursula Von Der Leyen in Brussels!
Donaldson, who opposed the landmark 1998 Anglo-Irish peace deal that anchored the paramilitary ceasefires, has an office full of immediate issues to deal with that could determine his future and that of his party.
First on the agenda is the DUP’s opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, a controversial annex to the British Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union which provides for customs checks on goods entering NI from of Great Britain, a tax which is seen by trade unionists as bringing the province closer to an economically united Ireland.
Speaking to reporters after his appointment as DUP leader was approved, Sir Jeffrey said: “I want to make it clear to the Irish government that their encouragement for the protocol is just not acceptable, given the evil that he does to Northern Ireland, that sets our policy back. “
Putting the blame firmly on the Northern Ireland protocol on the door of the government in Dublin and implying that he was ready to collapse the Assembly Parliament in Belfast, he added that “if the Irish government is sincere in its desire to protect the peace process and protect political stability in Northern Ireland, they too must listen to the concerns of trade unionists.
“If the Irish government continues to support the imposition of a protocol that harms our relations with Britain, it implicitly harms relations between Dublin and Belfast,” he said.
The Irish government has always insisted that the Northern Ireland Protocol was concluded between the UK and the EU last December, suggesting that Dublin is blamed for something in which it had no hand, deed, or role to play, aside from raising concerns that customs are tough – Island of Ireland border checks could aggravate dormant IRA members to revert to terrorism 24 years later calling for a ceasefire in 1997.
In the meantime, as he pushes London and Brussels to reduce the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol and awaits a High Court ruling on its legality, Jeffrey Donaldson must figure out how he can sit in the Stormont Assembly!
One possibility is to be co-opted into Arlene Foster’s headquarters in Fermanagh-South Tyrone if she decides to resign. Assuming he can be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, he will likely ask Paul Givan to step down and replace him as Prime Minister.
Otherwise, he could be the party leader only and isolated from that post for a while!
Elsewhere, disillusioned colleagues as well as members of the base hope he can reunite the DUP which has split in two in light of the uprising against its former leader Arlene Foster with the emergence of opposing camps Donaldson and Poots.
This could be all the more difficult as Donaldson could be forced to demote Edwin Poots’ recently appointed colleagues, while promoting those who supported him for the top post, a move that could intensify already entrenched positions. !
Donaldson told reporters last weekend that he would be setting up a “New Century Party Panel” to implement reforms over the next 12 weeks.
However, the biggest test Sir Jeffrey Donaldson faces in his new role is how to revive the Party’s declining fortunes which are threatened by demographic change.
A LucidTalk opinion poll in May for the Belfast Telegraph The newspaper estimated support for the pro-Irish Unity Party Sinn Féin at 25%, followed by DUP at 16%.
These are seismic numbers in Northern Ireland, as they mean Sinn Féin will likely be the largest party in the Stormont Assembly for the first time when the elections are held next May, marking the end of political domination. unionist since 1921, when the British split. Ireland.
Assuming that happens, Sinn Féin will take the Prime Minister’s seat, hold the most ministerial posts and increase pressure on London to grant a United Ireland referendum in the years to come to officially put end to British rule in Northern Ireland!
Donaldson, who has lost two loved ones to IRA gunmen in separate incidents, is more aware than most symbolism if Sinn Féin takes over as prime minister next May.
According to him, the IRA bombed and fired for 25 years to get what it wanted and successive London governments since 1990 have facilitated some of their demands, an evolutionary development.
Keeping Sinn Féin at bay – many of whose members are former IRA members – will be his biggest challenge over the next year or so.
Failure to do so could see him ousted from his post as DUP leader by hard-line supporters in the summer of 2022.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has a mountain to climb.