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Rowan Hand (l) and Leo who spoke to The Journal on the DUP deal Diarmuid Pepper/The Journal

‘They’re like children’: Mixed reaction to DUP's overnight deal in both nationalist and unionist towns

The health service was the main concern among people in Banbridge and Newry in Co Down.

WHILE SINN FÉIN vice-president Michelle O’Neill said today is a “day of optimism”, things were decidedly less cheerful on the streets of Co Down this afternoon.

At around 1am last night, after a mammoth meeting of the DUP executive, its leader Jeffrey Donaldson announced that his party backed a deal aimed at restoring Stormont after a nearly two-year absence.

There has been no functioning government in Stormont since early 2022, when the DUP withdrew in protest over the post-Brexit trading arrangements for the North.

While Donaldson last night conceded the DUP had not got everything it wanted in the negotiations with the UK Government, he said the deal provided the basis for his party to drop its blockade on devolution in Belfast.

However, on the streets of Newry in Co Down, several people called for Stormont to be abolished.

‘Stormont just doesn’t work’

“I think Stormont should be abolished,” Leo told The Journal on Newry’s Hill Street.

“The DUP is doing nothing for their own community, so they’ll certainly not do anything for us, the Catholics.”

Newry is a heavily nationalist city, with the latest census showing that 86% of people living there belong to or were brought up Catholic.

“Why would you vote for the DUP, when they don’t even do anything for their own?” added Leo (who didn’t give his surname, but was happy for his picture to be taken).

IMG_4058 Leo who spoke to The Journal on a potential Stormont return Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

When asked what should be the immediate priority of a restored Stormont, he pointed to the health service, describing it as a “f*** up”.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” said Leo, who added that he was recently hospitalised and remarked that the local Daisy Hill Hospital appeared to have been understaffed. 

Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry has been at the centre of cutbacks in recent years, much to the anger of the local community.

The hospital’s stroke service was withdrawn last May, with acute stroke patients being diverted to Craigavon Area Hospital, which is a 40-minute drive away.

Daisy Hill’s emergency general surgery was also moved to Craigavon on what was originally an interim basis in February 2022, but this was made permanent earlier this month.

IMG_4075 Sinn Féin sign in Newry calling for a United Ireland Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

Speaking on Newry’s Hill Street, John also expressed scepticism of Stormont and told The Journal that “it should be run from the mainland”.

Such a move, known as “Direct rule”, would see the UK government take over direct responsibility for government decisions in the North.

“We’ve got people in power here who are getting paid but not doing their job. If you weren’t doing your job, you wouldn’t be getting paid, it’s as simple as that,” said John.

“Stormont just doesn’t work, they’re just like children. If one side doesn’t get what they want, they give out and there is no pleasing them.

“They’re forgetting about the people, and we want to move on.”

‘Narrow mindedness’

Meanwhile, a different John in Newry described the DUP’s deal as a “con” and said “there is no chance they’ll go back.”

“Why would they go back to work when they’re still getting paid? They’re a total disgrace.”

While he said Stormont is not “fit for purpose” at the moment, he called for the DUP “to be left behind”.

“The other parties should all be able to get back to Stormont and just leave the DUP behind, they can join in if they want. And if not, they can f*** off.”

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the first minister and deputy first ministers must come from the main unionist and nationalist parties.

While the DUP is currently the largest unionist party, it is the second biggest party with 25 MLAs and would be granted the role of deputy first minister.

Sinn Féin meanwhile is the biggest party with 27 MLAs and its vice-president Michelle O’Neill would be first minister.

IMG_4067 Palestine flag flying outside Newry City Hall Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

As for the immediate priorities of a potentially restored Stormont, John said nurses’ pay needs to be remedied.

Earlier this month, people working in the health service were among those taking to picket lines to demand equal pay to their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

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

However, it will only be available when the Stormont institutions are restored.

“Nurses need their pay rise and they need it now, not whenever the DUP decides,” said John.

Elsewhere in Newry, Rowan Hand told The Journal that he “doesn’t trust any of the politicians because of their record”.

Hand was previously a journalist with RTÉ and BBC NI.

“Democracy and politics is about people working together and talking, rather than warring, and as far as I can see there is a narrow mindedness in Northern Ireland politics that is inherent in the system and it’s not going away,” said Hand. 

“I’ll believe that Stormont can be restored when I see them walking through the door. Even the DUP in accepting this new deal said ‘we’re doing it our way’.

“Compromise doesn’t exist in the minds of these people.”

IMG_4069 Rowan Hand pictured outside Newry City Hall Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

And while others in Newry expressed distrust of Stormont, Hand remarked that it’s the “best institution that’s available”.

“You work with the tools you’ve got and if Stormont gets up and running, let’s get the health service sorted out, it’s a mess.”

‘It’s all a joke’

Similar sentiments are expressed in Banbridge, which is a majority unionist town a 15-minute drive from Newry.

A sign reading “Stop DUP sellout” hangs from a lamppost just off the town’s high street.

IMG_4080 'Stop DUP sellout' sign in Banbridge Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

It’s a sentiment that was shared by some 50 unionist protesters who assembled outside last night’s DUP meeting, many carrying posters and banners warning against a DUP “sellout”.

“Stormont has to get up and running,” one person on the high street told The Journal.

“There is so much that needs worked on, health is the top priority and not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom.”

Despite the unionist majority in the town, there is still a lot of anti-DUP sentiment.

“I am sick and tired of listening about the DUP to tell you the truth,” says Marian.

“Why does it take so long to talk out something that can be talked through in half an hour, and they’re getting well-paid for nothing.

“They need to sort out the health service, and at our age we need to be looked after.”

Elsewhere, an elderly male shopper told The Journal that “there are a lot of people who are immune and indifferent to the whole thing because it’s gone on for so long”.

“Hopefully they will sort it all out and there will be harmony,” he adds, “but people in my age-group, there is an air of indifference that creeps into it.”

IMG_4082 Signs on a lamppost close to Banbridge's high street Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

While Banbridge is mostly home to unionists, one of the people in the town who spoke to The Journal on the DUP deal identified as a nationalist.

“I take nothing to do with it, it’s all a joke,” he said.

“Donaldson is trying to get back in, and then you have all these protestors last night shouting ‘traitors, traitors’ in the middle of the road, you couldn’t please those f***ers.”

download Protesters outside Larchfield Estate where the DUP were holding the private party meeting last night Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He also predicted that a restored Stormont “will only last for about six months and then it’ll fall apart again because the DUP don’t want nationalists to have the top roles”. 

Following last night’s meeting, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris today said he believes “all the conditions are now in place” for Stormont to return.

The UK Government said it will publish on Wednesday proposals to “secure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and to strengthen the union”.

The parties eligible to participate in a revived ministerial executive met at Stormont Castle this afternoon to discuss the next steps.

As the parties were meeting, the UK Government and EU announced an update to the Windsor Framework – which governs Irish Sea trade post-Brexit.

The new decision allows Northern Ireland to better benefit from a free trade agreement secured by the UK Government covering agri-food foods.

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