The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) is making “progress” in talks with the UK government over post-Brexit trading arrangements but the party will not revive power-sharing in Northern Ireland unless its fundamental concerns are addressed, Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
The DUP leader told the party’s conference in Belfast on Saturday he wished to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland but would “not be afraid to say no” to any deal he deemed inadequate.
“New arrangements must be capable of commanding the support of unionists as well as nationalists. The rights of unionists cannot be diminished, sidelined, or treated in a way that is less important than those of nationalists. Those balances will have to be restored, and our rights respected and protected, if we are to build the truly shared future that we desire,” he said.
The British and Irish governments and other Northern Ireland parties scrutinised the speech for signs about whether Donaldson may try to sell a potential deal to his party or continue boycotting the Stormont executive and assembly, which have been mothballed since the DUP walked out last year.
The party and government officials have been talking for months to see if the Windsor framework, which reframed the Northern Ireland protocol, could assuage DUP concerns over Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.
The party has faced pressure from London, Dublin and other parties to end a political vacuum that is worsening crises in public services, and that could lead to Downing Street imposing direct rule from London, with input from the Irish government.
Donaldson said the Windsor framework represented progress but did not resolve fundamental issues. However, he also expressed his desire to end the impasse.“If we want to make the positive case for the union then having local institutions that succeed in delivering for everyone in Northern Ireland is an essential element in building our case. To those who argue that direct rule is a better option I say this: time and again, Westminster has imposed laws upon us that are not in tune with the needs or wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Earlier on Saturday the DUP deputy leader, Gavin Robinson, signalled that any deal with London would require a reversal of budget cuts.“Northern Ireland gets less than it needs,” he said. “If we want a government that is in the right position to deliver for people, it needs financial firepower. As it stands, Treasury are now punishing Northern Ireland for their underfunding.”
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