TO be fair to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, he’s finally twigged on that his almost daily threats to collapse the political institutions have turned him into a bit of a laughing stock at a relatively early stage in his leadership. And so he has taken a bit of a break. The bad news is that somebody else is doing it for him.
And to be fair to DUP First Minister Paul Givan, he duly took over threat duties from Mr Donaldson – but with so little enthusiasm that it was clear it wasn’t exactly coming from the heart and that all things considered he’d much rather remain in the big job, thank you very much.
In  the end, it doesn’t matter much who’s talking tough about the future of Stormont, what matters is that uncertainty continues to be injected into the political institutions and, of course, into the minds of ordinary people. At a time when the public are entitled to expect at the very least that elected representatives are doing their best at a time of extreme crisis, they are treated instead to the spectacle of one of the main political parties undermining the unity of purpose required to tackle the pandemic in order to extricate itself from a Brexit/Protocol mess of its own making.
The rubber is about to hit the road for Mr Donaldson. After the embarrassing debacle of the collapse of his first threat to collapse, Mr Donaldson is not suprisingly being a little more retrospect. He told British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss that it’s crucial that progress is made on the Protocol, but in relation to a time scale he would only say:  “January is going to be an absolutely crucial month.” That’s effectively a deadline, because the DUP knows that time is moving very quickly. All parties have been in election mode for some time, but by the time the spring looms the business of government will – as usual in the immediate run-up to election campaigns – to all intents and purposes will cease and the dismantling of the institutions will be an utterly meaningless gesture, but potentially politically disastrous so close to polling day.
The DUP leader will be keeping a wary eye on the progress of the Omicron variant and the toll that it takes on the population and on the health service. Should a best case scenario evolve over the next three weeks and the Omicron wave subsides as quickly as it built, then there’s little doubt that Mr Donaldson will act in January in the absence of meaningful progress on the Protocol. But if by the end of January the picture looks bleak – or bleaker – then it would be an act of incredible irresponsibility and folly for him to throw the work of Health Minister Robin Swann and his Executive colleagues into utter chaos.
In his New Year message, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made not a single mention of the North, never mind the Protocol, which would appear on the face of it to be a telling indication of his priorities. UK expectations are being gradually and inevitably lowered, leaving the DUP high and dry. And not for the first time.