press release
Published: 02 February 2024

Commentary: Power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland

The following is an expert comment written by Dr Ciaran Gillespie, Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Surrey, about the DUP agreeing a deal to return to power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Ciaran Gillespie
Dr Ciaran Gillespie

"While the news of an agreement to restore power sharing may make for a broadly positive splash across the greater UK, the story progressed in drearier fashion in Northern Ireland.

"The ‘deal or no-deal’ conversations seem to move at a snail’s pace over the last few weeks, with hints that a pre-Christmas announcement would have Stormont thawed out for the new year. The focus was fixed on internal DUP discussions of whether to end an effective boycott, as the party struggles to come to terms with the challenges of a post Brexit Northern Ireland.

"And while for the public, those challenges largely centre around healthcare, education and the cost of living crisis- the DUP’s pertain to the contradictions thrown up by the Brexit it itself helped win. Indeed, the proposed deal would seem to clearly fail the DUP’s ‘seven tests’ it outlined for assessing Northern Ireland’s unchanged status in the UK.

"Across Northern Irish Unionism, there is a general sense of two camps existing, those who wish to get on with devolved governance as the central means of addressing the serious problems the country faces post-Brexit, and those who don’t. The DUP’s sizable weight gave it something of a veto power in this balance, but it was obvious to all who saw leader Jeffrey Donaldson speak in Westminster last week, that the obstructionists were being increasingly frozen out.

"Last night’s final meeting to secure the DUP’s participation was chaotic and somewhat surreal, as much of the country followed updates from the ‘secret’ discussions - it was live tweeted by anti-deal protestors. We could read in real time as the party tried and failed, to plug leaks from the room.

"The chaos, the splits, accusations of ‘selling out’ all relatively familiar in contemporary British politics. Brexit’s winners, undone by what they have won. It remains to be seen how true this will be for the DUP."

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