Jeffrey Donaldson told DUP members he would not shy away from difficult decisions in the coming months as he warned that the UK’s economic and constitutional integrity lay in the balance.
The DUP leader has already indicated that his party will collapse the executive in Stormont, a move that would place a burden on the government to conduct a quick assembly poll, if major changes to the controversial Brexit border on the Irish Sea are not secured in the coming weeks.
Donaldson insisted in his speech to the 50th Anniversary Dinner that it could still emerge as the biggest party in the upcoming Assembly elections, despite a year of unprecedented domestic turmoil and poor ballot performances.
Donaldson, addressing Federal Democrats in a Belfast hotel, reiterated his demand for the removal of the “malicious” Northern Ireland Protocol, a Brexit arrangement that has led to new checks and processes on goods moving between Britain and New York.
“I don’t know what the next few weeks will hold, but let me make it clear if there are tough decisions to be made next time, and I will be prepared to make them,” he said.
“I’m not in the business of quick fixes or plastering basic problems but I want to find long-term solutions that work for all of our employees.
“As a party that has been around for half a century, we must judge our decisions in terms of years, not just weeks or months.”
If there are no snap elections in the meantime, the next assembly vote scheduled for May next year is scheduled.
Opinion polls suggest the DUP could face a painful election.
It last saw the region’s largest party take the joint fourth place, with public approval ratings of just 13%.
In the last assembly elections in 2017, the Christian Democrats had the support of 28% of voters.
The party now faces the uncomfortable prospect of Sinn Fein’s exit from the upcoming assembly elections as the largest party.
A Republican Party assuming the role of Northern Ireland’s first minister would be a major symbolic blow to the DUP and unions in general.
The fallout from Brexit has led some grassroots unionists to blame the DUP for mishandling the process that led to the imposition of new economic barriers between NI and GB.
This was no doubt a factor in the chaos that engulfed the party earlier this year when the two leaders, Arlene Foster and her successor, Edwin Potts, were ousted in internal revolts within weeks of each other.
Foster declined an invitation to tonight’s dinner.
Donaldson, who succeeded Potts in the summer, told the crowd that the party was past the turn and was “moving forward again”.
“Let me assure you,” he said, “in spite of what our critics might suggest, we are not done yet.”
“I don’t claim this has been an easy year for this party, nor do I claim we always got everything right, but Northern Ireland is a better place today because of our leadership over the past 20 years.
“After a difficult start to the year, I think we have passed the corner and are once again moving in the right direction.
“When I speak to our members, I feel that unity of purpose and determination to succeed has been restored.”
Donaldson spoke again of his desire to collaborate with other union parties in the upcoming elections to maximize the pro-union vote.
He explained that he does not support arranging parties aside in electoral districts, but rather cooperating to encourage voters to move to other union candidates in the transferable single vote elections.
“If the protocol is still in place, then when the next elections come, I want to see this united opposition combine to win the majority of votes and seats in the assembly,” he said.
And yes, I also want to make sure Sinn Féin is denied a claim to support their campaign for a divisive border poll, by making sure the DUP returns as the largest party in Northern Ireland.
No news is bad news
is yours contributions You’ll help us keep delivering the stories that matter to you
Support us now
“In terms of the evidence for the recent election results, unionists winning a majority of Assembly seats is no small challenge, but there is still a huge stock of untapped union voters who have sat at home in the last election, despite their notable appearance in the Brexit and Belfast referendums. “
The DUP leader told members there were two big challenges ahead, to remove the Irish Sea border and lay the foundations for Northern Ireland’s future success.
DUP was established by the late Ian Beasley et al on September 30, 1971.
Donaldson said the party’s path from protest to power “wasn’t always smooth and easy”.
“I have no doubt that the next few months will be difficult and difficult,” he added.
“Decisions have to be made, although we have not shied away from the challenge in the past and will not do so now.
This party has been written off in the past and our political obituaries have been written many times before.
“I see some even at it again. We’ve taken hits along the way.
“But we have always been stronger, because we held our nerve when others panicked, because we adapted to changing circumstances and because we remained united despite being attacked from all sides.
“There is no doubt that we will test again.
“But this time it is not only the fate of the DUP that lies in the balance, but the economic and constitutional integrity of the union itself.”
“Lector profesional. Jugador galardonado. Aficionado a los zombis. Adicto a las redes sociales. Experto en tocino. Erudito en Internet”