A cloak-and-dagger atmosphere is developing over the likelihood of Northern Ireland getting its own power-sharing administration together in time for an April celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is delaying acceptance of the new Windsor Framework deal between the UK and the EU, and other parties are insisting they should return to power-sharing while they make up their minds.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson this week announced an eight-member panel to examine the detail of the Windsor Framework, a recent agreement between the European Union and the British government to resolve the long-standing controversy over the Protocol, a post-Brexit deal to ensure a soft trade border would continue across the two parts of Ireland.

But the new DUP panel, which will include former party leaders Dame Arlene Foster and Peter Robinson, will not report back until the end of March. Then, their recommendations are to be examined by the wider DUP family.

So, despite insistence by other parties that the DUP should return to the power-sharing administration while it considers the Windsor Framework, there is a danger it may not happen before the April anniversary celebrations of the Good Friday Agreement which President Joe Biden is expected to attend.

Donaldson told UTV that the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement was not a deadline, and denied the move was a delaying tactic.

"This is about the DUP getting it right," Donaldson said. "Given the fundamental importance of this for everyone in Northern Ireland, I think it's right that we take our time."

DUP leader rejects party panel to examine Windsor Framework is a delaying tactic. https://t.co/JRFUMaoeQZ pic.twitter.com/rcT6MiTMNS

— UTV Live News (@UTVNews) March 6, 2023

Donaldson believes there is the capacity between the UK and EU to change the deal, despite British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s hard sell in Northern Ireland last week when he said nobody else in the world has a deal giving access not just to the UK home market but also to the EU single market.

It was a market selling point that was viewed with suspicion by the DUP.

But the Sunak government, acknowledging that most of the population of Britain doesn’t care about the Brexit impact on Northern Ireland, is unlikely to pursue any new deal.

In a message to his party supporters last weekend, a message seen by the PA news agency, Donaldson stated, “This party will always stand up for Northern Ireland. Our rationale is to look at the long term and build a better Northern Ireland for the next generation.

“There are some who would say yes to anything and others who would say no to everything because they are more focused on where they have come from than where they are going.

“As the custodians of Northern Ireland’s future, however, we must carefully weigh up the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each situation.”

His message added that in assessing the way ahead, the DUP would not be knocked off course by rhetoric.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said there was nothing to prevent the DUP returning to Stormont, which it has boycotted for a year, while it continued to study details in the Windsor Framework.

Speaking with PA, she said, “I think we need to be very careful here not to keep playing the politics of this long.”

She added. “So we would encourage everyone, but particularly the DUP, to make their decision now, and to give people what they want and what they need, which is government.

“Now, all of the matters that need clarification, can be clarified. But that really cannot be used as an excuse for no executive and no assembly. I think time has run out on that now.

"This is not a time for continuing limbo. People, I think, want and absolutely deserve now a decision and a very, very speedy establishment of government.”

*This column first appeared in the March 8 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.