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DUP leader meets party members ahead of crunch gathering on Stormont return

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been meeting party members ahead of a crunch gathering on Monday night over Government proposals aimed at ending Stormont’s powersharing impasse.

The DUP has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for two years in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements which have created trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The party has been involved in protracted talks with the Government aimed at securing concessions on the arrangements that would address its concerns around trade and sovereignty.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP appears to be approaching a final call on the Government’s proposed measures.

On Friday, members of the 130-strong party executive were invited to a meeting at 7pm on Monday.

The invitation said the gathering would see Sir Jeffrey provide a “detailed update on the current political situation”.

Before the executive meeting, the DUP leader was at the party’s headquarters at Dundela House in Belfast, where a number of his MPs  and peers were in attendance.

Earlier in the day, he met party MLAs at Stormont.

If Sir Jeffrey presses for acceptance of the Government’s proposals and a Stormont return, he is expected to face stiff opposition from some unionists inside and outside his party.

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Tanaiste Micheal Martin said he hoped to see the return of powersharing (Niall Carson/PA)

They believe the boycott should only end once all economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.

While the deal being offered by the Government will seek to reduce red tape and offer additional measures aimed at strengthening GB-NI ties, they will not result in the axing of the EU and the UK’s jointly agreed protocol and framework.

Last week, in an impassioned speech at Westminster, Sir Jeffrey said he had received threats amid the speculation over an impending deal. The DUP has reported the incidents to the police.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin said he hoped to see the return of the powersharing institutions, but added that he wanted to give the DUP space to hold the meeting and reach a decision.

He said: “I respect the fact that they are meeting and having internal discussions; they’ve had discussions with UK Government on an ongoing basis for the last number of months and so we all know what’s involved and we all know the details here.

“So it’s really a matter for the DUP to meet. I want to give them the space now to have their meeting.”

DUP peer and former Stormont speaker Lord Hay said Monday evening’s meeting is to “update grassroot members by the party leader of where we’re at with the talks with the Government”.

He criticised unionists who he said were briefing against the party.

He told the BBC: “The real traitors within unionism are people who continually brief against the party, even within the party, and all they’re doing is damaging unionism for now and the future.”

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy accused the DUP of “internal party navel-gazing” while public services in Northern Ireland have been facing “enormous challenges” during the time the powersharing institutions have been suspended.