The Irish Times view on the DUP’s return: a long-awaited breakthrough

The last few months have been taken up by the party’s own internal attempts to come to terms with reality.

After two long years of suspended animation and grindingly slow negotiation, Northern Ireland’s devolved government finally appears to be on the verge of returning to life

Monday night’s decision by members of the DUP’s executive to re-enter the Assembly sets in motion a process which, if all goes according to plan, should see the Executive restored at Stormont by the middle of next week.

Some caution is required. The detail of the text agreed between the British government and Jeffrey Donaldson remains to be seen. In the hours following the DUP leader’s announcement that agreement had been reached, different interpretations of the significance of the commitments that had been entered into could be heard. At this stage, therefore, a derailment is not impossible. Donaldson’s opponents both inside and outside his party will be agitating for that.

In truth, though, whatever formula of words has been devised, it is unlikely to represent a significant deviation from the parameters set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework. Speaking on Tuesday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin intimated he had received assurances to that effect. That has been the reality with which the DUP has had to contend for some time if it was to to return to government. The last few months have been taken up by the party’s own internal attempts to come to terms with that fact.


The agonising will have been eased by what is in effect a political bribe, the promise to release £3.3bn (€3.84bn) of funds to Northern Ireland if devolved government is restored. That sort of realpolitik, while distasteful to some, can play an important part in securing a breakthrough. Recent public sector strikes across the North may also have helped to concentrate minds.

If, as is fervently to be hoped, no further obstacles emerge in the coming days, then the DUP, Sinn Féin and the other Assembly parties will have to embark immediately on the process of agreeing ministerial portfolios and discussing how best to address the many pressing problems which have bedevilled the North since the collapse of powersharing in February 2022. With trade unions planning further industrial action next week, top of the agenda will be public sector pay, along with glaring deficiencies in the local health service.

It will be a notable landmark in Northern Ireland’s history when Michelle O’Neill becomes the first leader of a nationalist party to occupy the First Minister post, but the symbolism of the moment will fade quickly as day to day politics take over. It is important for Sinn Féin’s all-island political project that it is seen to make a success of its role. It is even more vital for the DUP, and unionism writ large, to show a commitment to making Northern Ireland work for all its people.