Threats made against DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson for engaging with the UK Government as part of efforts to restore powersharing have sparked condemnation.
The MP for Lagan Valley revealed he had been targeted as he urged others in the wider unionist movement against opposing a deal that had yet to be agreed.
His remarks came after Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith suggested the DUP had negotiated a “very good deal” on issues around post-Brexit trade arrangements.
The party has maintained an almost two-year boycott of the Stormont institutions in protest at internal economic barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, following the UK’s departure from the EU.
Amid speculation an agreement is near to being reached, the UK Government tabled new legislation aimed at providing a window for this to be achieved.
Under the law governing the formation of a devolved administration in Belfast, the Government assumes a legal duty to call a snap assembly election once a deadline for forming a ministerial executive is passed.
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which sets a new cut-off of February 8, cleared both the Commons and Lords on Wednesday.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Jeffrey said: “As a result of the actions my party has taken, the EU were brought back to the table, there were negotiations, changes have occurred, and further change will come as a result of our actions.”
In advance of any agreement he called on the Secretary of State release funding for public sector pay rises, which had been the subject of strike action.
Sir Jeffrey said threats would not stop him from engaging with the Government.
He said: “I’m proud of the service that I have given, unlike some others, to my country when I put on the uniform of the Ulster Defence Regiment to protect everyone in the community from terrorism and violence.
“And yet today, because of the stirring up that is going on, I was threatened, threatened by those who never put on a uniform, by those who haven’t served our country.”
He added: “They are threatening people like me, who’s working day and night to try and find solutions and to move Northern Ireland forward on a basis that the vast majority of people can support.
“Well I would just say this to those who stir up, and those who threaten: the provisional IRA attacked me in the past and it didn’t deflect me from the task that I have, and my colleagues have, to do our job and to get the best that we can for Northern Ireland.”
In a message to fellow unionists in Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey said earlier: “Wait until an agreement is reached before you make your final verdict, assess the progress that has been made before you reach your conclusion.”
He said “there are some”, a “tiny minority”, who “don’t want Stormont back”, but said his party is “committed to getting a solution, to moving things forward, to making progress, to resolving the issues that have harmed Northern Ireland”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described those who had sought to threaten Sir Jeffrey as “cowards and idiots”.
Speaking in Parliament, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey condemned those behind the attempts at intimidation.
The peer said: “The question is what did they ever achieve? What did they ever get us? More misery, more deaths and destruction, no progress. So if anything has come out of all of this, it is that is not the way to go forward.”
Expressing her shock, former first minister and DUP leader Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee, said: “It appears that there is nothing new under the sun.
“These people who hide in the shadows and use the internet, in the way that we have talked about on so many occasions, seek to do damage and to push things in a particular way.
“I send my solidarity to Sir Jeffrey and I am sure the whole House will want to echo that in respect of the threats that he has received.”
Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine said: “I know I speak for all members of this House when we pass on our support for him (Sir Jeffrey) and wish him well.”
On the prospect of an agreement, he added: “Of course we all want to see progress within the next fortnight. At the moment there is no deal. We very much hope there will be one in the space of time this legislation provides.”
Senior Tory MP Mr Smith said: “(Sir Jeffrey Donaldson) and his team, I understand, seem to have negotiated also a very good deal with the Government on issues around the Windsor Framework and I hope in the coming days and weeks we will be able to see the results of that work.”