HOT on the heels of Jeffrey Donaldson’s expression of “regret” for his erroneous claim that children’s heart operations had been adversely impacted by a delay in the delivery of machinery parts due to the Protocol (nothing to do with it, needless to say) came two more embarrassing DUP interventions on the subject that would also be comical if it weren’t for the seriousness of the issue.

After Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council sourced their Christmas tree this year from County Kerry, DUP Councillor Jonathan Craig told journalists the fact that the tree was got from south of the land border instead of east of the sea border “may” have been connected to the Protocol. Sinn Féin Councillor Ryan Carlin took to social media immediately to point out that Lisburn has been buying its Christmas tree from Kerry for some years – a fact confirmed by the Council the next day. Paradoxically, the triviality of the incident underlines the importance of what’s going on. First of all, elements of the media ran the story without carrying out even the most basic checks. A single phone call would have revealed – as it did to one of our journalists – that the tree has been coming for Kerry for some time, but that phone call wasn’t made. And because of that the DUP was given more unrestrained licence to spout whatever guff it wants in defence of the refusal of its ministers to go back into the executive. And secondly, there are no depths – and no shallows – to which the party will not sink in its desperate defence of its continued boycott of Stormont.

 

At the weekend, it was revealed that former DUP leader Edwin Poots, far from “eating grass” rather than accept the Protocol, as he assured us he would, was in fact working behind the scenes to hold on to parts of it that as a farmer he likes. While Agriculture Minister, Mr Poots wrote to UK Environment Minister George Eustice telling him it was “unacceptable” that the British Government’s controversial new Protocol Bill – which is so delighting unionists – would see farmers in the North return to the reduced level of subsidies paid to farmers in Britain. In other words, Mr Poots would like to retain that element of the Protocol which sees farmers receive better subsidies than their British counterparts.

Which is a clear illustration that his party’s repeated claims to want the Protocol scrapped only go so far – and as ever with the DUP, only as far as it suits them. Such Olympic-level inconsistency should come as no surprise to anyone. Former leader Arlene Foster, after having considered the Protocol, saw it as a “gateway of opportunity”. She has just started a new group to save the union – the union that is so threatened and undermined by the very Brexit she so passionately backed. Current leader Jeffrey Donaldson remarked around the same time: “Customs checks doesn’t (sic) mean that you change the constitutional status of a part of the United Kingdom”. Now he says the opposite. None of these people suffer consequences for their  ineptitude. The rest of us do.