Senior DUP MLAs have hit out at the SDLP for refusing to back sanctions against Gerry Kelly over an altercation with police in north Belfast.
Last June, the Sinn Fein representative was filmed obstructing a police Land Rover in the Carrick Hill area during a nationalist protest.
Mr Kelly was subsequently given what is known as an “informed warning” by police, amounting to less than a caution. The police officer driving the vehicle was given the same reprimand for moving off with the MLA clinging to the bonnet.
When Stormont’s Standards and Privileges Committee proposed excluding Mr Kelly from the Assembly for five days, the SDLP signed a petition of concern meaning the sanction could not be imposed – despite the motion receiving majority support in the chamber yesterday.
Committee chairman Alastair Ross said the SDLP’s decision “demonstrates the SDLP has more loyalty to Gerry Kelly than it does to the Assembly Code of Conduct”.
The East Antrim DUP MLA said: “The SDLP’s actions have made a mockery of the Code of Conduct and the integrity of the Standards and Privileges Committee.
“They have allowed their loyalty to Sinn Fein and Gerry Kelly to cloud their judgment. This is deeply disappointing but hardly surprising.”
Mr Ross’s party colleague Jonathan Ross, who made the complaint to the committee about Mr Kelly’s behaviour, said: “I never thought that any party beyond Sinn Fein would dispute that the Assembly Code of Conduct had been breached and that a sanction should be handed down to Gerry Kelly.
“The SDLP’s decision to block a sanction is most unreasonable and sad.”
The SDLP said it helped block the proposal to suspend the Sinn Fein MLA from the Assembly because he had not been given the chance to apologise.
The Alliance Party has also reacted angrily to the SDLP’s support for the petition of concern.
Chief whip Stewart Dickson said Gerry Kelly admitted that he had broken the law when he accepted the police reprimand.
“This is a clear breach of the code of conduct,” he said.
“The Assembly has a duty to show that no person is above the law which is why I am angered by the veto of this suspension.”