Stormont stalemate continues after DUP blocks latest bid to elect speaker

Stance means no further business, including nomination of first and deputy first minister, can occur

Northern Ireland remains without a functioning Assembly or Executive after the appointment of a speaker was blocked by the DUP for the second time since the election earlier this month.

The DUP has refused to agree to the appointment – which under Stormont rules requires cross-community approval – until the UK government takes “action” to address problems with the Northern Ireland protocol.

Assembly members (MLAs) met on Monday in an attempt to elect a speaker and a first and deputy first minister following a recall motion put forward by Sinn Féin and backed by the Alliance Party and SDLP.

The DUP had signalled in advance that it would not support the nomination of a speaker, branding the recall a “stunt”.

In the Assembly chamber on Monday, neither of the proposed candidates – Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Patsy McGlone of the SDLP – received the required cross-community backing and therefore could not be elected.

Without a speaker, no further business, including the nomination of a first and deputy first minister, could take place and the session was adjourned.

Speaking to the media in the Great Hall at Stormont afterwards, Sinn Féin vice-president and first minister-designate Michelle O’Neill accused the DUP of “punishing the public” and “holding them to ransom because of their actions”. She said her party would continue to work to resolve the “DUP stand-off”.

“We will come back again, we will do this again, because I’m not giving up,” she said. “I believe in making this institution work… I’ll keep coming back to this if that is what it takes to get the DUP over the line and work with the rest of the parties.”

During what was at times a heated debate in the Assembly chamber, the DUP earlier defended its stance, with former first minister Paul Givan saying it was “within their gift” for the UK and EU to “make the changes that need to be made in order to have these institutions up and running on a power-sharing basis”.

Describing the recall as a “stunt”, he said it “isn’t a serious attempt to restore the principles of power-sharing and these institutions” but was “another attempt at majority rule and has no credibility when it comes forward from the party [Sinn Féin] that kept these institutions down for three years”.

Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister said the only stunt was “on the heads of the DUP” and called for the formation of an Assembly and an Executive as soon as possible. “Over 70 per cent of this chamber want to elect a speaker and get on with governing. Holding our society to ransom is unacceptable,” she said.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole accused the DUP of “holding the people of Northern Ireland hostage” and said the number of MLAs who supported the protocol had risen as a result of this month’s election.

Robbie Butler, the UUP deputy leader, said his party had written to the head of the civil service to convene all-party talks to establish a programme for government and to the minister for finance to reopen the public consultation on the budget.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times