Thursday, May 19, 2022

NI Assembly unable to function after DUP blocks vote for speaker

The Northern Assembly has failed to elect a speaker and has been adjourned “until a future date”.

It means the Assembly is unable to function, a week after 90 newly elected MLAs were returned and Sinn Féin emerged as the biggest party for the first time.

The DUP announced before the session that it would not support the nomination of a speaker until there is “decisive action” from the UK government regarding the Northern Ireland protocol.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit the North on Monday in the wake of the powersharing crisis over the post-Brexit trade agreement.

The DUP was condemned in the Assembly chamber by the other main parties, with Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill accusing them of “punishing the public” and “holding society to ransom”.

“Every one party in this chamber told the electorate that they would turn up on day one. Well, the DUP have failed on day one,” she said.

Two candidates – the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt and Patsy McGlone of the SDLP – were nominated but the lack of cross-community agreement meant they were not elected.

Outgoing speaker Alex Maskey said the failure to appoint his successor meant the Assembly can “proceed no further”.

He confirmed he will engage with parties and adjourned a sitting “until a future date”.

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‘Deep frustration’

Mr Maskey said he was conscious of “deep frustration” but that the Assembly is now “very limited as to what it can do”.

Stormont has been suspended five times since its inception in 1998. A Bill passed by the Westminster parliament in February this year allowed the Assembly to continue without an Executive for at least six months – at which point another election could be called.

Speaking to reporters in the Great Hall following the adjournment, Ms O’Neill said that eight days after the election, the DUP had “boycotted the executive being formed” and were “punishing the public for their own selfish interests”.

Asked by The Irish Times how long the adjournment process for a speaker could last, Ms O’Neill insisted it “shouldn’t be a dragged-out process”.

“I think it is ridiculous that we haven’t formed an Executive today. The protocol is here is stay. Let’s use this time with the EU and British government to work together to smooth its implementation. That should not stop a functioning Executive and Assembly here.”

Ms O’Neill confirmed party colleague John O’Dowd will take on the role of Stormont infrastructure minister, replacing the SDLP’s Nichola Mallon, who lost her Assembly seat last week.

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‘Shameful’

Addressing media, a visibly angry Alliance party leader Naomi Long said it was a “shameful day for the DUP” and rounded on DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson who, despite winning the Lagan Valley Assembly seat last week, has chosen to continue in his role as a Westminster MP.

On Thursday, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland confirmed former DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly had been co-opted to replace Mr Donaldson on the Stormont benches, even though she did not run in the Assembly election.

Ms Long said Mr Donaldson had “disappeared off to his safety net” in Westminster.

“This a sad day for the people and a shameful day for the DUP. The day the DUP came to Stormont, signed the register, took their salaries but refused to take their seats and do the work to earn it.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also condemned the DUP’s failure to nominate a speaker as “absolutely shameful”.

“People will go cold and hungry in their homes; from this house there will be silence. People will be desperately calling for ambulances; from this house there will be silence.

“The only thing that there will be a constant from today will be silence.”

Nation World News Desk
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