North’s Assembly unable to function as DUP blocks speaker

North’s Assembly unable to function as DUP blocks speaker

The North’s power-sharing institutions were in crisis on Friday after the DUP blocked the appointment of a speaker, leaving the Assembly unable to function.

The move, which is part of DUP’s protest against the Northern Ireland protocol, meant the Assembly was unable to conduct business and was adjourned indefinitely.

British prime minister Boris Johnson is expected in Northern Ireland on Monday for talks with the main political parties aimed at breaking the logjam and The Irish Times understands Taoiseach Micheál Martin intends to visit Northern Ireland on Friday.

He is expected to meet all the party leaders, including the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, in an effort to promote a resuscitation of the Assembly and the Executive.

The DUP’s action was roundly condemned by the other main Stormont parties during the brief sitting in the Assembly chamber on Friday.

It was the first time the North’s 90 Assembly members (MLAs) have met since last week’s election, which returned Sinn Féin as the largest party and entitles its Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, to the position of first minister.

‘Shameful day’

Ms O’Neill accused the DUP of “punishing the public” and “holding society to ransom”, saying “everyparty in this chamber told the electorate that they would turn up on day one. The DUP have failed on day one,” she said.

A visibly angry Naomi Long, the Alliance leader, told reporters “while this is a sad day for the people of Northern Ireland, it is a shameful day for the DUP”.

The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole said the DUP was thwarting democracy and “demeaning the electoral process” while the UUP leader, Doug Beattie, said the public would now be met with “silence from this place”.

The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, had indicated in advance that his party would not agree to the appointment of a speaker – which is required under Stormont rules to have cross-community approval – until there was “decisive action” from the UK government regarding the protocol.

“I believe that we need to send a very clear message to the European Union and to our government that we are serious about getting this protocol sorted out,” he said.

“The choice is clear: if the European Union is serious about protecting the political institutions and the Belfast Agreement, and its successor agreements, then they know what to do.”

Worsening tensions

On Friday, the new MLAs signed the roll of membership and an attempt was made to elect a speaker. Two candidates – the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt and Patsy McGlone of the SDLP – were nominated but were not elected because of a lack of cross-community support.

The events in Stormont came against a background of worsening tensions between the British government and the EU over British threats against the protocol.

There is increasing speculation that the British government will next week introduce legislation to allow it to unilaterally disavow parts of the protocol, which governs post-Brexit trading relations between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Officials in Dublin stressed that any discussions would be between the European Commission and the British, though they acknowledged that the Irish Government would play a role intended to facilitate agreement if possible.

But there is growing pessimism that any agreement is possible, as the EU reacted angrily in public and furiously in private over British threats to unilaterally scrap parts of the protocol.

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