NI Protocol: DUP confirms it will not support election of Stormont speaker

Published by Scott Challinor on May 13th 2022, 9:09am

Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed that the party will not consent to the election of a new speaker at Stormont on Friday, meaning that a functioning executive and assembly cannot be formed due to the nature of power-sharing arrangements in the country.

The assembly is due to meet on Friday [May 5] for the first time since last week’s historic election, which saw Sinn Féin emerge as the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time.

The DUP’s move comes in protest of the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the provision in the UK’s Brexit deal which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland.

While free flowing trade between Northern Ireland and the neighbouring Republic [which is in the EU] remains under the Protocol, there are now checks on goods moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

This development effectively creates a trade border in the Irish Sea, which unionists argue pushes Northern Ireland to the periphery of the union and undermines its place in the UK internal market.

The DUP, which after the election is the second-largest party as per assembly seats, had already hinted that it could refrain from nominating unionist ministers to allow a new executive to form, if its concerns about the Protocol were not addressed.

Confirming that such a decision has now been taken, Sir Jeffrey said that the Protocol has eroded the foundations that “devolution has been built upon” and that concerns over it were far beyond “merely some political squabble which is impacting upon Stormont.”

He said: “The Protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years.

“The economic and political damage to Northern Ireland we see now is merely the tip of the iceberg and will only increase significantly as time moves on.”

However, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who is now entitled to become Northern Ireland’s first minister, has hit out at the DUP for “disgracefully holding the public to ransom” over the Protocol.

She said on Twitter: “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. The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up.”

Other party leaders have also criticised the DUP for their decision to block the formation of an executive. Naomi Long, leader of the cross-community Alliance party called the situation “incredibly frustrating” and urged the UK government to “adjust the law in order that the rest of us can do our jobs” if the DUP remained “not willing to get into government”.

Meanwhile, Andy Allen of the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] said that although he was sympathetic of the DUP’s stance on the Protocol, he was critical of their decision to block a new executive from forming as an act of protest.

Allen also warned that the move would directly affect the public in Northern Ireland, saying: “People will come to harm; people will be impacted as a result of that and there needs to be a long hard look at that.

“We cannot allow this situation to trundle on for many, many months.”

If a speaker is not nominated, Stormont will not be able to elect first and deputy first ministers nor hold debates, committees and forward private member’s bills. There can also be no sessions held where government ministers can be scrutinised over their work.

As things stand, current ministers will be able to oversee their departments in a caretaker capacity, but their powers to take action will be hampered without the executive.

The assembly is due to meet at midday on Friday, May 5. 

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
May 13th 2022, 9:09am

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