DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson defends the decision to block election of a new Stormont assembly speaker

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last night defended the DUP’s decision to block the election of a new Assembly speaker claiming that if a trade border was at Aughnacloy, rather than Larne, Sinn Fein would walk from Stormont.

By Henry McDondald
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 14th May 2022, 6:02 am

In a statement after day one of the new Assembly ended with no Speaker elected and no prospect of an Executive, the DUP leader said the move demonstrated that his party was “serious” about changing the Northern Ireland Protocol. He said he was sending out a “clear message” to the EU and the UK Government about the post-Brexit trade deal.

It emerged late yesterday evening that Boris Johnson will fly to Belfast on Monday as pressure mounts on the Prime Minister to sanction unilateral UK changes to the Protocol, including removing the European Court of Justice’s powers over Northern Ireland.

Recalling the three years Stormont was in cold storage between 2017 and 2020, Sir Jeffrey said: “Sinn Fein should win an Oscar for their faux outrage from a party that walked out of government for three years because it suited them, supported by the SDLP and the Alliance Party.”

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, flanked by his Assembly team, giving a press conference in the Great Hall at Stormont yesterday

On the Protocol, he said: “If the checks that have been imposed on Larne and Belfast were taking place at the Aughnacloy/Monaghan border, Sinn Fein would be singing a different tune.”

Sir Jeffrey continued: “We want devolution to work and to be respected across all communities in Northern Ireland. But for it to work, unionists as well as nationalists must be respected. Not one unionist MLA elected last week supports the NI Protocol. That makes it impossible for powersharing to operate.

“Unionism will not be walked over. The DUP has a mandate to remove the Protocol. Our mandate will be respected.”

The DUP leader was not in the Assembly chamber when the attempt was made to elect a new Speaker as he had handed over the Lagan Valley seat he won last week to former MP Emma Little Pengelly. Sir Jeffrey told the House of Commons earlier this week he intends to stay on as an MP representing Lagan Valley.

As the largest party now with 27 seats, Sinn Fein MLAs took their position on benches to the right of the Speaker’s chair for the first time.

Michelle O’Neill, who is now entitled to be nominated as First Minister, accused the DUP of “disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess”.

“Today is the day we should be forming an executive to put money in people’s pockets and to start to fix our health service,” she said.

“The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up. Shameful.”

Later, Ms O’Neill said that when she meets the Prime Minister on Monday she will tell him “that he needs to stop pandering to the DUP, that they need to get on and work with the (European) Commission and find ways to smooth the implementation of the Protocol and stop holding us to ransom for their game playing.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said last night that those MLAs who refused to support the Speaker’s appointment should not be paid their salaries.

Ms Long said: “The vast majority of MLAs turned up today to do the job we were elected to do last week. Seventeen Alliance MLAs arrived at the Assembly with a can-do attitude and commitment to serve the people.

“However, the DUP have decided they will not and I urge them to reconsider their stance. To turn up here and sign the roll to take your salary but then refuse to do your job is shameful. Those MLAs who blocked the election of a Speaker today should not be paid their salaries. To take them would be an insult to everyone in our society.”

She added: “If a party believes in devolution, they should not gamble with it, particularly at such a crucial time. The people of Northern Ireland need a government to take decisions on a range of vital issues and the DUP’s refusal to take part in that process is a slap in the face for all those unable to heat their homes or who are suffering on a waiting list.”

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said: “The DUP is no longer a party of democrats and demeaned the election result.”

Mr O’Toole added: “They (the DUP) have subverted the clear will of people here and are once again pinning all their hopes on Boris Johnson coming to save them.”