MLAs to gather in latest attempt to elect Stormont speaker

The DUP is blocking the establishment of the devolved powersharing institutions as part of its protest against the NI Protocol.

03 August 2022

MLAs will gather at Stormont in the latest attempt to restore the devolved powersharing institutions in Northern Ireland.

However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s Democratic Unionist Party will again block the election of an Assembly speaker, meaning no further business can be done.

The SDLP, which has brought the recall motion, said the plenary session would serve as a challenge to the DUP to get back to work.

The Stormont institutions have been in flux since February when the DUP withdrew its first minister from the devolved executive, calling for the UK Government to act on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is demanding movement on the NI Protocol before the Stormont institutions can be restored (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The party has remained firm, resisting a number of attempts to resuscitate the powersharing institutions until it sees progress from the Westminster Government in removing trading barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Two previous attempts to elect a speaker, which would open the way for the nomination of First and deputy First Ministers, have failed.

A motion to debate the cost-of-living crisis has also been scheduled for the Assembly session on Wednesday, but this will not proceed without the election of a speaker.

SDLP Stormont leader Matthew O’Toole said it was “outrageously cruel” for the Assembly not to be functioning at a time when families were struggling with rising prices.

He said: “Since the Assembly last met, the crisis facing families and households across Northern Ireland has deepened.

“Energy prices are spiralling, fuel costs are prohibitively high and thousands are now facing the additional burden of back-to-school costs with no additional support from the people they elected three months ago on a promise to help.

“The challenge that the SDLP opposition will make to the DUP is simple – get back to work or explain yourselves to the thousands of families who have been held to ransom for the last 90 days.

“The excuses about the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill have evaporated now that the legislation has passed its Commons stages.

“Continuing to deny people urgent support is unethical, immoral and outrageously cruel.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt has been nominated for the role of speaker on the previous two occasions when the Assembly was recalled.

He said he did not believe the recall would achieve anything while there were still outstanding differences over the protocol.

David Trimble death
UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt questioned the point behind the recall of the Assembly while differences remained over the NI Protocol (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said: “It’s not going to go anywhere. Everybody knows it’s not going to go anywhere. So we question the point of doing this.

“I think what would be better than a show, a public show in that chamber, is party leaders getting together quietly, privately, and trying to resolve the differences.

“We have challenges. We don’t have crises at the moment. Let’s deal with the challenges.”

The recalled sitting of the Assembly was originally due to take place last week but was postponed following the death of Lord Trimble, one of the key architects of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Nesbitt said: “There is only one fitting tribute to David Trimble and that is for all of us here at Stormont to get the institutions back up and running again, to deal with the issues including the protocol and to deal with everything that we have to deal with.

“What we are dealing with are challenges but they’re nothing like what David Trimble had to overcome 25 years ago.”

He added: “We need get need to get back to consociational powersharing responsibility-taking government here at Stormont.”

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