Jeffrey Donaldson took decision to withdraw First Minister with ‘great reluctance’

Jeffrey Donaldson Took Decision To Withdraw First Minister With ‘Great Reluctance’
The DUP leader said he did it to see ‘meaningful engagement’ on unionists concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol. Photo: PA
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By Rebecca Black, PA

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he took the decision to withdraw the Northern Ireland First Minister “with great reluctance”.

Then-first minister Paul Givan resigned in February 2022, while other ministers remained in post and could take a limited number of decisions.


Since then an Assembly election saw Sinn Féin overtake the DUP to become the largest party. This means Sinn Féin is currently entitled to nominate the next First Minister, and the DUP to nominate the next deputy First Minister.

However, the Assembly has remained effectively collapsed while the DUP refuses to participate until their concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol are addressed by the British government.

Former First Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan (Peter Morrison/PA)


Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster on Wednesday, Mr Donaldson described his decision as “proportionate”.

“It was with great reluctance that I took the decision in February 2022 to withdraw the First Minister,” he told MPs.

“I felt it was a proportionate decision that would buy time to allow for negotiation to take place whilst all the departmental ministers remained in place, albeit the executive itself couldn’t meet, but at least there were ministers in post and that enabled a degree of decision-making within government departments.

“So I was hoping that within that period, that we would see meaningful engagement and negotiation leading to solutions in terms of the concerns that Unionists have about the agreement.”


Mr Donaldson stressed the importance of consensus in Northern Ireland politics, quoting former SDLP leader John Hume: “In a divided society, you cannot operate on majority rule, you’ve got to operate on the basis of consensus.”

Northern Ireland council elections
Leader of the DUP Jeffrey Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA)

“John Hume championed the concept of consensus and the reality is that at the moment in Northern Ireland, that cross-community consensus in relation to some very fundamental issues that impact on the day-to-day lives of the people of Northern Ireland, arising from the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, means that that consensus has been seriously undermined,” he said.


“We sought to resolve those issues whilst the Executive remained in place, we were party to the New Decade, New Approach Agreement at the beginning of 2020, we worked in good faith, and a key commitment in that agreement was an undertaking by the United Kingdom Government to ensure that our place in the internal market of the United Kingdom would be protected in any post Brexit arrangements.

“The protocol doesn’t do that, and it is now acknowledged by the Government and indeed by the Irish Prime Minister, the current Taoiseach, that the protocol actually harmed our ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Donaldson started his evidence by outlining his party’s opposition to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

While Mr Donaldson was not a member of the DUP at that point, as a UUP member he walked out of the talks before the final agreement was signed.


He told MPs there was nothing for victims of the Troubles in the agreement, while paramilitary prisoners were released.

Mr Donaldson said there were also concerns around proposals to reform policing, saying they did not want the then-RUC to be scapegoated, and also concerns around how the institutions would operate.

He added that many of their concerns around “significant flaws” in the 1998 deal were dealt with at St Andrews in 2006.

But he said that the change to how the First Minister and deputy First Ministers are nominated, as opposed to the original method of being elected by the Assembly, was made by the British government, not requested by the DUP.

Mr Donaldson also stressed that he wants to see a “greater normalisation of politics”.

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