ANY brief hope that the DUP would be brought to their senses by the triple whammy they’ve been hit with recently was unceremoniously dashed on Tuesday as two senior party figures signalled a return to the trenches where they’ve historically felt the most comfortable.
The changing demographics here revealed by the latest tranche of census information was followed in short order by a significant quickening of the debate about a new island and the frankly jaw-dropping sight of the hardest of Brexit hard men, NIO Minister of State Steve Baker, eating humble pie while the EU and Dublin looked on.
There’s been a crunching change of gear on the Protocol negotiations – technical talks were under way almost as soon as Mr Baker revealed his softer, more accommodating new persona and Westminster insiders have been increasingly pointing towards the UK accepting a deal on the Protocol that is less than optimal for unionism. That new Tory realism has been driven by a compelling mixture of the Tories’ current tsunami of domestic travails and its recent humiliating trade deal slap-down by the United States.
Rather than prepare its base for a compromise on the Protocol – something that is going to happen whether the DUP accepts it or not – the party has decided to play its last desperate card. Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots told RTÉ that unless he and his colleagues get their way on the Protocol, President Joe Biden will be visiting Ireland next year on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement not for a celebration of the treaty, but for its “funeral”. His colleague, Ian Paisley MP, warned that power-sharing will never return to the North if the House of Lords blocks British PM Liz Truss’s hardline Protocol Bill.

The DUP may believe it has let the United States, the EU and Dublin have both barrels, but what the words of Messrs Poots and Paisley display is pure, hysterical desperation. The ditching of the Good Friday Agreement is the dearest wish of the most reactionary and nasty elements within unionism and loyalist paramilitarism – elements who have been leading the biggest unionist party by the nose for years now. But leaving aside the implications of a DUP rejection of the Good Friday Agreement on devolution and peace for those of us who cling to the hope of a better future, the spectre of direct rule is one that hovers more threateningly over the heads of the pro-union people than any other section of society here. 
If devolution does not return, it will have been because the Tories have sorted the Protocol to their satisfaction and to the anger and disappointment of the DUP. A future Protocol accommodation, then, will by definition have come about because London has healed the rift it created with Dublin. Against that background, increased and enhanced direct rule co-operation between the two governments will be a virtual inevitability and that will be another calamitous loss for the DUP. The latest of many.