Belfast Telegraph

Givan's decision won't appease SF... but it will alienate unionist hardliners

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP may have thought that reversing its decision to axe Liofa funding was a smart move to defuse an explosive situation, but the party is now facing the worst of all worlds.

In the eyes of its political opponents - both unionist and nationalist - it looks like it's running scared of an Assembly election, and no U-turn is too big in its attempt to avert being tested at the polls.

The DUP has abandoned its previous strategy of poking Sinn Fein in the eye at every opportunity and seems to be trying, however late in the day, to appease nationalists.

It's unlikely to work with the Shinners, who are surely now relishing the prospect of an election.

And such a high-profile U-turn will only alienate unionist hardliners at a time when the DUP desperately needs friends in its own community.

Paul Givan's policy reversal was the proverbial manna from heaven for the TUV.

Jim Allister certainly made the most of it with pointed soundbites.

Yesterday, the DUP swallowed its pride.

The once sure-footed party has recently been its own worst enemy.

Had it shown a fraction less pride just a week ago, Northern Ireland would not now be in political meltdown. While questions can legitimately be raised about the wisdom of throwing vast amounts of money at some Irish language and Ulster-Scots projects, Liofa didn't fall into that category.

Only the most narrow-minded could object to means-tested bursaries to send kids from poor areas to the Gaeltacht.

The DUP decision on Christmas Eve resonated far beyond the Irish language community.

At just £50,000, the cost of the entire project pales into insignificance compared to the £85,000 a day that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal will cost.

It was a petty, crassly confrontational but - most of all - stupid decision, given the crisis at Stormont.

It needlessly rubbed the noses of the nationalist community in the DUP's dominance.

That party's calculation was that Martin McGuinness would never pull the plug on the Executive.

Now, the DUP is in panic mode, agreeing to an RHI public inquiry despite its previous staunch opposition to that proposal.

And its request that the Alliance Party join it in lobbying the Government to postpone polling day exposes its previous 'bring it on' attitude to an election as empty bluster.

Private polling may show that the party is in trouble with voters.

Certainly, the feedback its MLAs are receiving from constituents is causing concern.

All is most certainly not lost, but, more than any time in this decade, the DUP has every reason to be worried.

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