Northern parties voice opposition to double-jobbing in open letter to British PM

Six party leaders unite to warn plan to return to dual mandates could ‘fuel instability’

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the double-jobbing plan was to ‘shore up’ the DUP. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the double-jobbing plan was to ‘shore up’ the DUP. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

The leaders of six of the North’s political parties have written an open letter to the British prime minister warning that plans to reinstate so-called double-jobbing for Northern Irish politicians could “fuel political instability”.

The letter to Boris Johnson was signed by four of the five parties in the Northern Ireland Executive – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party – as well as by People Before Profit and the Green Party.

The leaders said they were writing to stress their “firm opposition” to the amendment that would allow the return of this arrangement, and were “strongly” urging the UK government to withdraw it.

The North’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, has also written separately to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, to express her opposition to the plans, which she described as a “crude political manoeuvre to shore up the DUP”.

An amendment to a Bill which is due to be debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday would allow a temporary change in the law on dual mandates, also known as double-jobbing, for politicians in Northern Ireland. Labour has said it will oppose it.

Legislation preventing politicians from holding multiple elected positions simultaneously came into effect for the North in 2016, forcing a number of MPs to give up their seats in the Assembly.

The proposed change would allow the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, to stand in the forthcoming Assembly elections, due by May at the latest, while retaining his seat as an MP, and is backed by his party.

Selection process

On Monday Mr Donaldson said the candidate selection process in his Lagan Valley constituency was “ongoing” and, if he is selected, the decision would be up to voters. “Ultimately, they will decide whether they want their MP to also be an MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] and that is called democracy.”

He has rejected suggestions of a deal between his party and the UK government and criticised the response from other parties on the proposed change, noting that the change had first been mooted by the British Labour Party and this was the first time objections had been raised.

“I take with a pinch of salt some of the outrage we’re now seeing manifested by some of the political parties,” Mr Donaldson said.

In the letter, the leaders of the six parties said there had been no consultation with them and the amendment had “been brought forward just months away from an Assembly election, which cannot be seen as impartial benefiting as it does only one party.

“It has also departed from the stated position of the Northern Ireland Office that such amendments would only be considered where ‘sufficient consensus’ exists: in fact, all parties with the exception of the DUP are firmly opposed to any return to double-jobbing.”

‘Promote stability’

Supporters of the amendment argue that it would bring the situation in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, and would promote stability by facilitating a move from the House of Commons to the Northern Assembly without triggering byelections.

Mr Lewis defended the move on social media, saying the UK government brought forward the amendment “following the tabling of an amendment on the same issue by the former leader of the Alliance Party, Lord Alderdice” and “the principle received cross-party support in the [House of] Lords”.

Additional reporting – PA