DUP set to end 2-year Stormont boycott as leader hails ‘decisive’ breakthrough

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is on the verge of ending its 2-year-long boycott of Northern Ireland power-sharing arrangements after it backed a deal with the UK government. 

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has now committed to reviving the mothballed Stormont executive and assembly, on the condition the UK government tables promised legislation as part of a new agreement. 

Donaldson said the deal, which is yet to be published, would safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and restore its place in the UK internal market. 

In the early hours on Tuesday, he told a press conference: “I am pleased to report that the party executive has now endorsed the proposals that I have put to the party”.

Off the back of a chaotic five-hour meeting of the party’s 130-member executive, he declared: “The result was clear, the DUP has been decisive, I have been mandated to move forward.”

He also told BBC Ulster this morning that this is “undoubtedly a decisive moment” for the party.

He added: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to make the progress that we have.

“I believe there is now a route to have the devolved government restored.”

The DUP collapsed Stormont in February 2022 in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements that it said undermined Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. 

The protracted impasse saw civil servants run Northern Ireland for a full two years amid a fiscal crisis and public sector strikes.

Public sector workers in Northern Ireland staged a 24-hour strike this month calling on politicians to return to the government and grant them a pay raise.

The UK government last week gave Northern Ireland politicians until 8 February to restore the collapsed government in Belfast or face new elections.

This latest breakthrough paves the way for Sinn Féin, which overtook the DUP as the biggest party in the 2022 NI assembly election, to take the first minister post for the first time. The post will be held by its deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill.

Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, expressed optimism Stormont could return before an 8 February legislative deadline for forming an administration.

“Sinn Féin will now engage with the parties and both governments to ensure we now all press on without delay”, she said.

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, who oversaw negotiations on the UK government side, called the move by the DUP a “welcome and significant step”.

“I am grateful to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and colleagues for the constructive dialogue over the past months and to the other political parties in Northern Ireland for the patience they have shown during this time,” he said.

Heaton-Harris said he was pleased the DUP had agreed to a “package of measures that the UK government has put forward” and were ready to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He acknowledged that the move was subject to an agreement with the UK government.

“I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return; the parties entitled to form an executive are meeting tomorrow to discuss these matters and I hope to be able to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said the breakthrough represents a day of “mixed of emotions”.

“Good we might finally get to do the whole job we’re elected to do and try to repair some of the damage done, but the last 24 hours don’t bode well for long-term stability”, she wrote in a social media post.

She added: “Institutional reform is essential, we just cannot sustain further chaos or collapse.”

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