Givan warned of potential consequences if Assembly is collapsed by DUP

Campaigners protesting outside Stormont say legislation on climate change should not become a victim of political instability

Northern Ireland's First Minister Paul Givan faced strong warnings in the North's Assembly on Monday about the potential consequences of his party leader's threat to collapse the devolved institutions over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Other parties said legislation currently making its way through the Assembly dealing with issues such as climate change, organ donation and sexual offences could not be allowed to fall victim to political instability at Stormont.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Colm Gildernew said to bring down the Assembly during a pandemic would be "irresponsible, reckless and unforgivable", while Colin McGrath of the SDLP condemned "reckless remarks" from the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson.

“What message do you have for the businesses, for the communities and for the people out there if the message from your party leader is that this place can be brought down and decisions won’t be able to be taken?” Mr Grath asked.

In response Mr Givan backed the stance outlined by Mr Donaldson in a speech last week, saying his party was “very clear, we want this Executive to work, we want this Assembly to continue to operate” and there was now a “window of opportunity” for the UK and the EU “to make sure that the changes that need to be made are made”.

He said the UK government had committed to “unfettered” east-west trade and to protect its internal market, and these promises – made in the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored Stormont in January 2020 – must be upheld.

“We will continue to operate these institutions in good faith when it comes to carrying through decisions...but we have to make sure the fundamental building blocks on which this Executive and this Assembly are based are sound, and that requires action to be taken over the short window of opportunity that now exists.”

Mr Givan was appearing at his first Executive Office questions as First Minister, which took place on the same day as the Assembly returned from summer recess.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie, during a debate on the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill, said the Assembly must not collapse otherwise this legislation and other bills would fall.

So-called “upskirting” and “downblousing” are set to become criminal offences in Northern Ireland under this new legislation, which reached its second stage in the Assembly on Monday.

It also strengthens current “revenge pornography” laws and contains provisions against adults masquerading as children online.

Shenanigans

Meanwhile climate change campaigners protesting outside Stormont on Monday said legislation on the climate change bill should not become a victim of political instability.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that "in all the political shenanigans we've seen over the past week, one thing needs to be made clear – if this Assembly comes down this bill goes down as well".

“We are walking away, if we walk away from these institutions, from our responsibilities to this planet and the people who will inherit it.”

Alliance MLA John Blair said the legislation had been threatened by “political stuntery”, and “we have to be clear – this issue can’t be threatened by that stuntery”.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said any future moves by Stormont that could potentially damage the environment had to be met with a "wall of anger" from activists.