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DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson leaving his party's HQ at Dundela in east Belfast this evening. Alamy Stock Photo
The North

Jeffrey Donaldson briefing DUP members over UK government proposals to end Stormont impasse

Members of the DUP’s 130-strong party executive were invited on Friday to the short notice meeting.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Jan

DUP LEADER JEFFREY Donaldson is briefing party members over UK government proposals aimed at ending Stormont’s powersharing impasse and is due to speak at a press conference shortly.

Donaldson was driven into the Larchfield estate shortly before 7.20pm for the short-notice gathering of the DUP’s 130-strong executive.

It is unclear whether the meeting is still ungoing, but a lecturn has been set up and it’s anticipated that Donaldson will soon address the media.

Around 50 protesters were assembled at the gates of the venue, some carrying posters warning against a DUP “sellout”.

Some shouted at DUP members as they drove into the grounds of the venue.

Senior party figures Edwin Poots, Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Emma Little Pengelly were among those seen arriving at the estate for the event.

Efforts by the party to keep details of the meeting secret appeared seriously undermined when loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who is a vocal opponent of the deal, begun posting what he claimed were live updates from the meeting on X, formerly Twitter. 

He claimed that the meeting was halted and attempts were made to find out who was leaking the information to him. 

Bryson also claimed that Donaldson told the meeting that members of the PSNI were trying to “block phone signals” at the gathering.

A PSNI spokesperson told The Journal: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland has no involvement in this.”

The Stormont Assembly has been collapsed for almost two years while the unionist party refuses to participate until its concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements have been addressed by the UK government.

Senior civil servants are running Stormont departments, with limited powers, in the absence of local ministers.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said before Christmas that his negotiations with the DUP over the Windsor Framework had concluded.

Although the DUP has been holding out since then for more clarification on the UK government’s proposals, it appears to be approaching the juncture when it decides whether to reject or accept the deal that would end the powersharing deadlock.

democratic-unionist-party-dup-leader-jeffrey-donaldson-centre-leaves-his-party-headquarters-in-east-belfast-northern-ireland-monday-jan-29-2024-the-unionist-leader-is-meeting-with-his-execut DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson leaving his party's HQ at Dundela in east Belfast. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

On Friday, members of the DUP’s executive were invited to a short notice meeting at 7pm this evening.

Before the executive meeting, Donaldson was at the party’s headquarters at Dundela House in Belfast, where a number of his MPs and peers were in attendance.

He declined to comment to waiting reporters as he left to head to the Larchfield estate.

Earlier in the day, he met party MLAs at Stormont.

If Donaldson presses for an acceptance of the UK government’s proposals and a Stormont return, he is expected to face stiff opposition from some unionists, both inside and outside his party.

They 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.

While the mooted deal being offered by the UK government will seek to reduce red tape associated with arrangements, and offer additional measures aimed at strengthening GB-NI ties, they will not result in the axing of the EU and UK’s jointly agreed protocol and framework.

Last week, in an impassioned speech at Westminster, Donaldson said he had received threats amid the speculation over an impending deal. The DUP has reported the incidents to the police.

mel-lucas-from-traditional-unionist-voice-speaks-to-the-media-as-he-joins-protesters-outside-larchfield-estate-where-the-dup-are-holding-a-private-party-meeting-the-protesters-are-calling-for-the-d Protesters gathered outside the Larchfield estate this evening. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In December, the UK Government offered a £3.3 billion (€3.85 billion) package to stabilise finances in Northern Ireland, including £600 million (€700 million) to settle public sector pay claims.

However, it will only be available when the Stormont institutions are restored and the DUP vetoed a last-ditch effort to restore Stormont on 17 January ahead of major industrial action across the North. 

Thousands of public sector workers took part in strike action on 18 January, where calls were made for Heaton-Harris to release the funds for pay claims and for the DUP to return to Stormont.

Other parties

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One today, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP “needs to get on side” and “get back into government with the rest of us”. 

“Their negotiations with the British government are over, as well all know. People have been patient, people have been very patient. The time for action was long past, so they need to make their decisions clear,” McDonald said. 

“If it’s the case that they continue to delay and leave us in limbo, then now it’s time for the two governments to step in and we would need a plan B,” she said. 

Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the time has 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,” Doherty said. 

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

On Friday, Poots criticised some other unionists who have accused his party of being “traitors”.

He suggested his party had extracted meaningful concessions from the UK government.

“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, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) 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. A moment of decision that will set Northern Ireland’s course for years to come,” Allister said. 

“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.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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