Sinn Féin has criticised the DUP’s suggestion that it may choose not to elect a new Speaker when the Stormont Assembly meets on Friday.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said today (Wednesday May 11) that his party has yet to decide whether to vote to elect a new Speaker when MLAs meet in the chamber in two days.
The election of the new Speaker is the first item on the agenda for MLAs following the election and requires cross-community support from nationalist and unionist members.
The DUP is refusing to return to the power-sharing Executive until its issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.
Speaking after a meeting with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, Michelle O’Neill said the Speaker has to be elected.
She said: “What we need to see is the positions filled – First Minister, deputy First Minister, all the ministerial positions filled – and let’s get down to doing business.
“I don’t think it is good enough. It is not good enough for the people here that the DUP is holding society to ransom, punishing society, preventing the establishment of a Speaker and an Executive to actually respond to the things people are worried about.
“I don’t think it is acceptable, the position Jeffrey Donaldson has articulated today.”
Sir Jeffrey told BBC Radio Ulster that his party will decide by Friday whether to elect a new Speaker.
He said: “We will be there on Friday. Our members will be there to sign the roll. We will make a decision as to how we proceed. We’ll get the group together and we’ll determine how best to take this forward.
“I’m waiting to see what the Government has to say. So that is the priority right now, to ensure that what the Government say is moving us in the right direction.
“I’m simply saying that we will need to make a decision on that. That’s one of the decisions we’ve got to make.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, amid concerns in Europe that the UK is poised to take unilateral action on the post-Brexit arrangements in the region.
Those concerns are shared in Dublin, and Mr Coveney visited Belfast on Friday for talks with several of the Stormont parties in a bid to break the impasse on a return to power-sharing.
Ms O’Neill said her meeting with Mr Coveney was “constructive” because Sinn Féin has a “shared interest” in restoring the Executive.
“It is obvious that we made the case that we want the Executive up and running, working on behalf of the people,” she said.
“There should be no more delays. That should have happened by now. We had the election results last week. The people have had their say.
“We encourage all parties to turn up on Friday.”
Ms O’Neill insisted that the Northern Ireland Protocol cannot be scrapped.
“The protocol is here to stay. There are ways to smooth its implementation, and we are certainly up for that, but the rhetoric from the British Government in the last number of days is serving only to pander to the DUP.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said a new Assembly Speaker should be nominated as a bare minimum.
He confirmed that his party would take part in the process of electing a new Speaker.
“It will be serious (if no Speaker is nominated on Friday) because up until now, we’ve been able to do some form of business because the Assembly could meet, we could do stuff, we could hold the ministers to account for the next 24 weeks because question time would continue with them and we would know what was happening in regards to the individual departments,” he said.
“If we don’t have a Speaker, we don’t have any of that. We will have no work being done whatsoever and that is not acceptable. We cannot be standing for election and then getting paid to do a job and then not being allowed to do it.
“So we, at least, as a bare minimum, need to nominate a Speaker on Friday so that we can move forward, at least in part.
“We certainly, as a party, will be nominating someone to be a Speaker.”
Sir Jeffrey also said on Tuesday that he will not leave the House of Commons to take up his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly until issues around the protocol are resolved.
On Wednesday, he stressed there is “unfinished business” at Westminster.
“If the Government are going to act, then I believe, as the unionist leader, I need to be here to see that through because it’s fundamentally important,” he said.
“There isn’t a single Unionist Member of the Assembly elected last week who supports the protocol. We can’t go on with that kind of situation.”
He also said he does not anticipate that any DUP candidate who failed to secure a seat in the Assembly will be co-opted to represent Lagan Valley while he remains at Westminster.
He said the seat will not remain “vacant” and that an announcement on his temporary replacement will be made in the coming days.
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