THE familiar unionist response to visits by US Presidents is at best suspicious, at worst hostile – and news that Presidents Joe Biden and Bill Clinton are coming to the North to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement have maintained that tradition.
Even as members of the DUP sniffily acknowledged the news and warned against the politicisiation of the most political of events, their leaders were in the United States for St Patrick’s week, enjoying some distinctly green-tinged hospitality, with Jeffrey Donaldson laying out – again – what he and his party require if there’s to be a return of the political institutions. Or perhaps it may be more accurate to say that he gave a hint of what is required – a hint so vague as to leave enough wriggle room to make his words all but pointless. Mr Donaldson said “fundamental problems” remain – we knew that was his position not long after the Windsor Framework was unveiled. And he said he was seeking further clarifications from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – we knew that decades-old negotatiations chestnut would be rolled out long before the DUP leader spoke to the media in Washington on Tuesday.
While there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip – nearly all the possible slips being TUV-shaped – there’s little doubt that Mr Donaldson wants to get his people back into Stormont and that he believes that is possible with a bit of furniture rearranging on the part of London. Mr Donaldson referred exclusively to action by London without any reference to the need for movement by the EU, which means that he will likely be open to unilateral progress – which would necessarily mean the Windsor Framework will remain largely unchanged.
The eight-person panel that the DUP has convened to consider and report back on the Framework is another indicator of a DUP willingness to reverse out of the cul-de-sac into which it has driven. All of the DUP members of the panel would be generally considered to be on the ‘liberal’ side of the party (that word being strictly deployed here in the DUP sense) and the one MP on the panel is not one of the Wesminster clique who have been regularly and gleefully making life difficult for whichever DUP leader happens to be in situ.
It’s approaching three weeks since the Windsor Framework was announced and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has still not rejected it – this despite the almost immediate and inevitable trashing of the deal by those who make a political career of saying no. Against that simple reality all else is so much fluff: the appeals for clarity; the appeals for time; the expressions of discomfort – all are nothing more than markers of time as the leading unionist party waits for the smoke and the dust of the Windsor declaration to clear to see whether the scene is orderly enough to allow it to make the move it so clearly wants to make.
And so we wait. Again. But this time in the knowledge that there’ll be no further Stormont waiting.