Unionists say ‘no point’ in new election if Sinn Fein won’t govern

Jeffrey Donaldson at a Somme commemoration last year. March's election put the DUP on 28 seats, and Sinn Fein on 27
Jeffrey Donaldson at a Somme commemoration last year. March's election put the DUP on 28 seats, and Sinn Fein on 27

A senior DUP figure has queried what the point of a new election would be since Sinn Fein are showing little interest in actually governing.

However, Jeffrey Donaldson added that direct rule seems more likely than another ballot, as the Province awaits the post-Easter resumption of political negotiations.

This view was echoed by Tom Elliott of the UUP, who said other parties had “no enthusiam” for the idea of sending the public back to the polls only around two months after the last Assembly election.

Mr Donaldson, DUP MP for Lagan Valley, said: “We can’t rule out the possibility of another election and if there is one the DUP will engage and we will be out to win.

“The reality is an election won’t resolve any of the issues.

“They can only be resolved through negotiation and if Sinn Fein aren’t prepared to negotiate, then most people will conclude ‘what is the point in having another election?’

“I think the more likely outcome is direct rule, but clearly that’s a decision for the government.”

There has been a break in talks between the Stormont parties over the Easter period.

Negotiations to try to resolve the deadlock are set to resume on Wednesday.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has said he will either trigger an election or move to a return to Westminster decision-making if there is no deal by “early May”.

He said the rhetoric of Sinn Fein in recent days does not bode well for the restoration of the devolved institutions.

On Sunday, Sinn Fein’s leader in the north, Michelle O’Neill, told her party’s Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin that Brexit has placed Irish unity back on the political agenda.

And party president Gerry Adams told an Easter Rising commemoration in Co Tyrone that direct rule was not an option and that another snap Assembly election was the only way to proceed if negotiations do not deliver agreement.

Mr Donaldson said: “We have made it clear, we’re ready to form a government today without preconditions. But Sinn Fein evidently are not.

“If we do return to direct rule, Sinn Fein will have to explain to their voters why they would prefer to be ruled from Westminster than to have a government.”

Mr Elliott, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said: “I see no enthusiasm for an election from anyone except Sinn Fein, not from any of the parties or government.

“Most people are saying they see no point in one, except Sinn Fein. I expect we will probably see direct rule by stealth.”

He expects to see legislation shortly to facilitate rates collection, the setting of a budget, and to allow the Stormont departments to take decisions necessary to their continued running.