Northern Assembly to be recalled in attempt to break deadlock

Breakthrough unlikely as move dismissed by DUP as ‘stunt’

Stormont is to be recalled on Monday in an attempt to break the impasse which has left Northern Ireland without a functioning powersharing Government since the Assembly election earlier this month.

However, it is unlikely there will be a breakthrough, with the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson dismissing the move as a “stunt”.

If Sinn Féin thought the move would change things, he said, “then they really don’t understand unionism and our determination to stand our ground until we get the decisive action that is required to move us all forward.”

The election of a Speaker was blocked by the DUP after the election as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland protocol, which meant the Assembly cannot sit and there is only a caretaker Executive.

A recall petition put forward by Sinn Féin’s Chief Whip Pat Sheehan reached the required threshold of 30 signatures necessary to reconvene the Assembly with the backing of Alliance and the SDLP.

Assembly members will convene on Monday to attempt to elect a Speaker, First and Deputy First Minister and to debate a motion calling for the formation of the Executive “without further delay” and for immediate action to tackle pressing issues including the cost-of-living crisis and challenges to the health service.

Sinn Féin’s Northern leader, Michelle O’Neill, said the restoration of the Assembly and formation of the Executive was “the democratic outworking of the election and must be respected.

“I’m glad all of us who want to make politics work will be in that chamber on Monday and will debate this,” she said, adding that she hoped “we can get to a point where we can actually elect people into post.”

Meanwhile the influential US Congressman Richard Neal has re-emphasised that the row over the Northern Ireland protocol is “not a real crisis” but a “problem to be solved” following meetings with the leaders of the North’s main parties at Stormont on Thursday.

Mr Neal is at the head of a group of Democratic and republican delegates from the US House of Representatives which is currently visiting Northern Ireland.

There has been an angry reaction by unionists to comments by Mr Neal that the dispute over the protocol appeared to be a “manufactured issue” and the use of the term “Planter” to describe them.

Mr Donaldson had criticised Mr Neal’s visit as “the most undiplomatic” he had ever seen and said his language was “unhelpful” and displayed “an alarming ignorance of the concerns of unionism” but he had heard a “more realistic approach” during their meeting.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie also said his understanding was the delegation had taken unionist concerns on board.

Speaking after his meeting the DUP, Mr Neal acknowledged he could have “picked a more artful term to describe the now impasse that has been reached” but said “anybody that would suggest that it was maliciously intended would be misguided.”

He said the meeting went “very well” and he understood unionist concerns about an Irish Sea border and accepted “the apprehension that they raised was legitimate.”

The US delegation also met representatives of the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella body which represents loyalist paramilitary groups the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando.

Mr Neal said a US/UK trade deal was “very desirable” but made clear that would be risked if the London Government pressed ahead with unilaterally scrapping parts of the protocol.

Additional reporting — PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times