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It was a day of gold standard political gymnastics; the DUP doing somersaults and stretching the elastic in the dictionary as it tried to explain a major shift in its position.

This was the party that twice last week used a blocking mechanism or veto to push back 4-party support for papers and proposals brought forward by the Health Minister Robin Swann for an extension of restrictions designed to fight the virus.

Then, on Thursday night – just one week later – the Executive agreed an even tougher ‘circuit breaker’ to begin on November 27th.

In the hours before we listened as the ground was prepared – prepared by some of the quieter voices of the DUP.

In Radio interviews with the BBC, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson spoke in a different tone – part of their task, to calm the louder voices in their party.

Others in the Executive will tell you that the expert advice on restrictions has been there since mid October.

At times it has been reduced to a political negotiation – a bit of this and a bit of that, with the DUP speaking of having to learn to live with the virus.

As a result of this, a political crisis was developing alongside the health crisis.

The Executive was in trouble and any further use of that DUP veto would have put the other parties in an impossible position.

This is part of the context leading to Thursday’s decision at Stormont and the DUP U-turn. Another fallout would have been hugely damaging.

On the ‘circuit breaker’ agreement, one Executive source commented  “right decision – wrong time” – meaning it should have happened earlier, to reduce pressure in the hospitals.

It happened under political pressure. The DUP having to move onto the ground of the other four parties.

For now, it has bought some time – both for the hospitals and for Stormont politics.

Are we out of the woods. No we are not.

“I don’t see how this thing survives beyond this [the pandemic],” a senior politician commented on Thursday.

He means the Executive.

It is a comment in the heat of the battle. There are reasons why it will survive, but this has been a week of yet more damage – a week when people have again begun to turn their backs on Stormont.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at www.merrionpress.ie

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