Return of Northern Ireland Assembly set to be blocked by DUP

Jeffrey Donaldson confirms party will refuse to nominate Stormont speaker

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: confirmed his party would  not nominate an Assembly speaker. Photograph: James Manning/PA Wire

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: confirmed his party would not nominate an Assembly speaker. Photograph: James Manning/PA Wire

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The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will not nominate a speaker when the North’s Assembly meets for the first time on Friday.

It means business cannot proceed – including the nomination of first and deputy first ministers – and the Assembly cannot sit.

MLAs began signing the roll of membership at midday on Friday, as well as signing the undertaking for Assembly members.

Speaking to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings before the meeting, the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson re-emphasised his party’s decision not to support the election of a speaker – which requires cross-community agreement - and called again for the UK government to take “decisive action” on the Northern Ireland protocol.

“I believe that we need to send a very clear message to the European Union and to our government that we are serious about getting this protocol sorted out,” Mr Donaldson said.

“Because of the harm it is doing, undermining political stability, damaging the agreements that have formed the basis of political progress made in Northern Ireland, to our economy, contributing to the cost-of-living crisis, this matter needs to be dealt with.

“While others sit on their hands we are not prepared to do that. We need decisive action taken by the [UK]government,” he said.

Speaking on BBC radio on Friday morning, the Alliance party leader Naomi Long said the DUP “need to get back into government, let the rest of do our jobs” and warned “when you play with fire you will get burned”.

“We have just had an election, it’s incumbent on us all to accept the outcome of it and make it work, and I think the DUP are playing a very dangerous game with the institutions and with the future of Northern Ireland.”

The election has left Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill positioned to become first minster, the first time a nationalist would oversee the Northern Executive in 101 years.

However, no business or ministerial appointments can proceed if a speaker is not nominated through cross-community support, which means having DUP backing is vital.

On Thursday, Ms O’Neill said it would be “incredulous” for the DUP to block the election of a speaker.

“I don’t think that’s acceptable when they’ve just been before the electorate and the people have voted to have politics working for them,” she said. “Our Assembly will sit tomorrow; all parties should turn up, all parties should nominate and we should have an Executive up and running.”

‘Requisite flexibility’

Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss on Thursday warned the EU that if it does not show the “requisite flexibility” over the protocol – which effectively created a post-Brexit border in the Irish Sea – the UK would have “no choice but to act” alone.

Her comments came after the UK attorney general said it would be lawful for the British government to over-ride parts of the agreement – on the grounds it had caused social unrest, referencing the hoax bomb planted at an event attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Electoral Office confirmed that former DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly has been co-opted to replace Mr Donaldson on the Stormont benches.

The DUP leader won the seat in Lagan Valley – the constituency he represents at Westminster – last week after contesting the Assembly election.

Under rules that do not allow MLAs to “double job”, he had eight days to co-opt a replacement. He said earlier this week that he intended to remain at Westminster as an MP until issues with the protocol were resolved.

Ms Little-Pengelly, who previously served as special adviser to former DUP leader and first minister Arlene Foster, lost her MP seat in 2019 and recently indicated she planned to return to her job as a barrister.

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