DUP MLA: Assembly recall does nothing to heal deep fractures

As the DUP blocked a third move to elect a speaker at Stormont and restore power-sharing institutions yesterday, one of the party’s MLAs accused pro-EU parties of ignoring the “political fracture” caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

By Henry McDonald
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 7:46 am

North Belfast Assembly member Brian Kingston described the third recall of the Stormont Parliament as “stunt politics”.

He said: “These proceedings are not a genuine attempt by the parties opposite to restore the political institutions, rather they demonstrate a wilful disregard for the views of unionists and the principle of power-sharing itself in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Kingston said the protocol had caused a “deep fracture in our politics”.

DUP minister Gordon Lyons (centre) speaks to the media alongside DUP MLAS Phillip Brett and Pam Cameron in the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

“That fracture will continue to grow unless it is dealt with now and is dealt with through arrangements which command cross-community consent,” he said.

The bid to elect an Assembly speaker, which is the first step to re-forming the power-sharing Executive, was unlikely to succeed because of the DUP strategy since the election of refusing to back nominations for the post.

The strategy of “protocol or power-sharing” is designed to force the Westminster government to change the post-Brexit agreement that has created a border down the Irish Sea. The DUP has said it will continue to veto any attempt to revive power-sharing government until legislation passes at Westminster giving powers to the UK government to unilaterally change the NI Protocol.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is now about to be scrutinised in the House of Lords before it goes back to the Commons for ratification in law.

Conservative leadership contender Liz Truss has pledged to push through the bill and enact if necessary if she is elected Tory leader and prime minister on September 5. Ms Truss introduced the bill into the House of Commons back in June and so far it has passed through three stages of Parliament with large majorities.

Leading DUP figures including North Antrim MP Ian Paisley have called on the Lords not to dilute or block the legislation, which many peers believe will lead to the UK breaching a global trade agreement thus breaking international law.

Ahead of yesterday’s Assembly recall, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he could not provide a timetable for his party’s return to power-sharing, insisting it will only decide when the incoming prime minister is in office and has made clear his or her intent on the protocol.

Yesterday’s recall, instigated by the SDLP, saw two MLAs nominated for the post of speaker – the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt and the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone.

Both politicians were also nominated in the previous two unsuccessful attempts to elect a speaker.

As on those occasions, the DUP voted against the nominations, deploying its veto to block either man being appointed.

During a debate before the votes, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill directed her address at the DUP as she described the party’s block on power-sharing as “unforgivable”.

“All of your actions will not wash away the protocol, the British government legislating to denounce the protocol will not wash away the international rule of law,” she said.

“The reckless approach of the DUP and by the Tories in London is all about themselves and themselves only, their own selfish interests and to hell with the ordinary people, to hell with the people who are actually struggling to actually put a roof over their heads, to keep a roof over their heads, to actually heat their homes, and the pressures which they’re facing in their everyday life.

“But you don’t appear to care and I would encourage you to care.”

Newly elected Alliance MLA Patrick Brown, making his first address, called for reform of Stormont structures to “put an end to ransom politics”.

He said it was no longer tenable for one party to be able to block the formation of an Assembly and Executive.

“Until this place can operate in a mature and democratic fashion, our ability to deal with situations like the cost-of-living crisis will continue to be curtailed,” he said.

He branded the situation a “scandal”, adding: “The blame for that scandal rests solely on the shoulders of the DUP.”