‘They [unionists] either have to get off the ice and get on with the job or the ice is going to crack beneath their feet and they are going to find themselves in pretty cold and chilly water.’
A pretty blunt warning this week to the DUP and unionist refuseniks, who, after facing humiliation in the Supreme Court over the legality of the Northern Ireland Protocol, are still saying they won’t come and play nicely with everyone else and restart the devolved institutions.
But who offered such a stark assessment of their situation? Did it come from the pages of An Phoblacht? Or the floor of the Dail?
No, it came from the chair of the House of Commons’ Northern Ireland Committee on BBC Radio Ulster. For added poignancy, Simon Hoare is the Conservative Member of Parliament for North Dorset.
He is not alone in voicing the frustration that many in Westminster now have about the prolonged wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Peter Hain, a former Labour secretary of state, now enobled, made similar remarks the other day from the red benches of the House of Lords.
He warned that public support for devolution was in danger of ‘collapsing completely’ in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis and that while any party had the right to withdraw from the assembly and executive, collapsing the institutions ‘amounts to a veto.’
He suggested cutting the funding of any party eligible to be part of the executive that refused to take up their role.
These kinds of intervention matter because the drumbeats signalling a deal is in prospect are getting louder. The BBC reports that ‘a framework deal has been on Rishi Sunak’s desk for some time but that the prime minister was waiting for the right moment to move forward.’
Comments like these from Hoare and Hain introduce an air of realpolitik in the ossified, insular world of Unionist politics.
The expectation from the British side of the Irish Sea is that a reasonable deal between the British government and the European Commission should lead to the restoration of the devolved bodies.
If Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP cannot – or will not – sidle back in from the window-ledge, then the mood in Westminster will further harden.
Suggestions like Hain’s will gain ground – as will calls for the British and Irish governments to deepen their partnership, amounting to a form of joint authority over the day-to-day management of Northern Ireland.
Every political impasse is resolved by a deal, which invariably falls short of what those who eventually make it originally wanted. Just read any Irish history book.
Its abundantly clear the DUP has no strategy for managing its opposition to the protocol, beholden, as it is, to the loyalist loony brigade.
But they should understand that the position of Unionism can and will get worse if they refuse to show leadership and take this last best opportunity to get things back on an even keel.
Jeffrey Donaldson should heed the warnings from Westminster. Does he realise just how thin the ice beneath his feet now is?