Is the DUP’s NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER Unionism about to be de-commissioned?

There may not be demonstrations outside the Waterfront Hall or numerous meetings in the Ulster Hall, Stormont Hotel, the Ramada and elsewhere but this does seem like a ‘Good Friday Agreement’ moment for the DUP and its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP.

In his quieter moments, of which there may not be many at present, is he having a déjà vu moment about his role in the opposition to the leadership of the late David Trimble; was Brexit such a good idea after all?

If the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement has shown anything, it is that unionism fares better when it says yes and opts to make Northern Ireland work for all.

Cultural policing, narrow identity stereotyping and ideological purism has served only to distract from major policy areas and undermine the Union they purport to protect.

The late John Hume’s claim, whilst invalid, that Unionism is akin to the Boers of South Africa has on occasions been too close for comfort in regard to its tendency towards cultural marginalising, slow-learning delivery of equality and pseudo-religious reasoning.

This has been the pattern of DUP ‘petition of concern and populist’ politics.

In the light of the Windsor Framework, it is time to de-commission ‘NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ‘Unionism; re-frame and re-vitalise unionist politics around a new agenda.

Like Sir James Craig when abandoning 3 counties of Ulster, David Trimble when having to move forward without the full support of Unionism, it is likely that the DUP is going to have to say yes to something which no matter how you dress it up as a gain for DUP tactics cannot be wholly to their liking or that of their chosen constituency.

To borrow a phrase from the lexicon of its membership, the DUP is going to have to ’cut the mustard.’

A pointed statement by former DUP leader, Peter Robinson, carried obvious inference that the DUP has no option other than to run with the Windsor Framework and needs time to dodge the trap that David Trimble was manoeuvred into by the Government of the day under Tony Blair and intransigent unionism wherein he had to move forward without the backing of much of the Unionist electorate.

The DUP will take more time but a positive decision is pressing otherwise there will be calls for an election which the Secretary of State will find hard to resist.

It is notable that various DUP representatives have, on social media and on the airwaves, lauded the success of DUP tactics in bringing change to the Ireland/ NI Protocol.

Would this be the case, if it was about to be rejected?

Lessons, it seems, have been learned from Sinn Fein in 1998 on how to turn defeat into a victory parade.

Less welcome must be the presence in their ranks of dissident voices from North Antrim and elsewhere.

The UUP of 1998, when the party tore itself apart from within over the Good Friday Agreement, comes to mind once more.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak even came close to having a ‘hand of history moment in front of the Coca-Cola cans when promoting the new Framework

The devil is always in the detail and the Windsor Framework in its potential for divergence and future political turbulence as well as access to two markets for businesses with checks East-West now much reduced, offers opportunity as well as constitutional traps.

The DUP could change the habit of a lifetime, maximise the opportunities and avoid the latter.

Where Sinn Féin and nationalist parties saw Brexit and the Ireland/NI Protocol as fortuitous to their aspirations, they have been less vocal about the Windsor Framework in similar terms and concentrate on calls for the resumption of the NI Assembly.

The over-heated rhetoric of an all island economy, when matched to the 3 Strands of the GFA, now has less justification with an agreement focused on trade, commerce and market access.

Laws which present as trading standards and regulations to allow access to markets are normal in any international trade agreement.

Political Unionism has to put itself in a place where it can deploy the Framework to lead the building of a prosperous Northern Ireland.

Even as it recovers from years when the economy struggled in an environment of targeted destruction followed by global recession, austerity and now the impact of war in Europe, the foundations are there in Fintech, cybersecurity, diverse manufacturing and world leading research in universities.

Unionism is no longer dependent on headcounts, it is dependent on circumstances and life experiences – economic, educational, housing, wellbeing, the cultural, social and physical environment.

Consent as enshrined in the GFA will depend on how voters view the qualitative delivery of these and more.

The longer Stormont, with all its shortcomings, remains dormant and the concerns of the community remain as collateral damage to constitutional and ideological fetishes, the greater is the possibility that voters will seek a new arrangement.

Over the next few years, it is going to be the case, whether or not it is a Conservative or a Labour government in Westminster. that the United Kingdom and the EU will move closer.

It is equally obvious that the EU no longer fears contagion and an exit of members wishing to emulate the United Kingdom; that the EU has moved on from Brexit and Northern Ireland, having presented no great threat to the EU during the ‘grace periods’ does not sit high on European agendas.

Alongside, there will be trade deals which the United Kingdom will agree with various trading partners to which Northern Ireland will have access.

The world is changing all around Unionism.

It is time to change and engage to the best advantage for Northern Ireland and all of those who call it home.

It could be a question of now or NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.

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