The DUP has defended a decision to recall the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday – rejecting Michelle O’Neill’s claim that without Sinn Fein involvement the exercise is no more than a “stunt”.
MLAs are set to return to the chamber for the first time since March 2017 after a petition of recall received the required 30 signatures.
All of those who signed are unionist members.
The recall has been timed to take place just hours before the scheduled decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland comes into effect. Those signing the petition intend using the session to debate the law change that was voted through Westminster earlier this year.
The DUP’s Gordon Lyons said the recall was not a DUP initiative, but part of a campaign taken being forward by Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Both Lives Matter.
“Michelle O’Neill’s arrogant dismissal of that demonstrates a disregard for devolution and for the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Fresh from banging bin lids on the border, for Sinn Fein to describe a meeting of elected representatives as a stunt and a circus is beyond belief.”
Earlier on Friday, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill branded the planned Assembly sitting as a “circus”.
She said any MLA who took part in the sitting would be a “clown,” and added: “Arlene Foster is involved in stunt politics, she is going to lead her team into the Assembly that is not sitting on Monday, they are going to discuss issues that they can do nothing about,” she said.
Even one nationalist MLA turning up to vote at a recalled Stormont on Monday will be enough to elect a Speaker and conduct some business.
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan has indicated that he is prepared to attend the sitting and – according to Assembly rules – his presence alone would be suffice to satisfy the cross-community support requirement.
His party leader Colum Eastwood has been critical of the recall but has not yet announced if all SDLP MLAs will attend.
Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie has announced that he has launched a further recall petition for Tuesday.
He said: “If we can be in the chamber to debate abortion reform on Monday, then we can be there on Tuesday too to discuss how the country is falling down around us.
“This farce has gone on for too long and pressure must be applied.”