Northern Ireland fails to form executive in last-ditch effort to restore devolved government

27 October 2022, 19:39

A last-ditch effort to restore devolved government at Stormont has failed
A last-ditch effort to restore devolved government at Stormont has failed. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Northern Ireland has failed to form an executive in a last-ditch effort to restore the devolved government.

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Despite MLAs meeting, a bid to elect a new speaker did not go ahead due to the DUP refusing to support nominations.

It comes after Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris set a deadline to call fresh Assembly elections for midnight on Thursday.

The DUP has refused to engage with the devolved institutions in Belfast in the wake of May's Assembly election, preventing the formation of an executive.

With time running out, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged the party to get back to Stormont.

His official spokesman said: "There's still time for the DUP and executives to get back to Stormont and we urge them to do so because the people of Northern Ireland deserve a fully functioning and locally elected executive which can respond to the issues facing the communities there."

The party's boycott is part of a campaign opposing the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP says it will not return to powersharing until decisive action is taken to remove the protocol's economic barriers on trade.

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The DUP has refused to engage with the devolved institutions in Belfast.
The DUP has refused to engage with the devolved institutions in Belfast. Picture: Alamy

During the recalled Stormont sitting, the SDLP nominated Patsy McGlone, and the UUP nominated Mike Nesbitt for the position of speaker - a position which must be filled before an executive can be formed.

However, the nominations failed to secure the necessary cross-community support from MLAs, forcing the session to be suspended as business cannot be carried out without a speaker.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party did not nominate ministers because not enough progress has been made on addressing issues of concern around the protocol.

"We were given a clear mandate in the Assembly elections, and we would not nominate ministers to an executive until decisive action is taken on the protocol to remove the barriers to trade within our own country and to restore our place within the United Kingdom internal market," he said.

He also warned that unionists will not accept a joint authority arrangement between the British and Irish governments instead of direct rule from London in the absence of the Stormont Assembly.

"Unionists will not accept joint authority. Joint authority would be an abandonment of the Good Friday Agreement and if that's what the Irish government want to do, then let them be honest and say," he said.

In response to the controversial move, Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said the DUP "have left us all at the mercy of a heartless and dysfunctional Tory government".

She added: "Most of us here want to do the job we were elected to do.

"Today our caretaker ministers rally to take decisions, within tight limits, before their civil servants are left in an impossible position come midnight where they are expected to run our essential public services yet have no budget and no powers."

Alliance leader Naomi Long speaking after an attempt to elect a new speaker fails.
Alliance leader Naomi Long speaking after an attempt to elect a new speaker fails. Picture: Alamy

In the meantime, Mr Heaton-Harris has been urged to introduce emergency legislation to give senior civil servants more power to continue to run Stormont departments.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the Bill should also cut MLA salaries as the stalemate at Stormont rumbles on.

Ms Long said that a fresh election is not the solution to resolving the issues.

"The solution to the problem is this: emergency legislation in Westminster to suspend these institutions until the negotiations with the EU and the UK Government can reach conclusion, potentially within weeks," Ms Long said.

"He (Secretary of State) should in that Bill include powers to cut MLA salaries. It is unconscionable that we are continued to be paid for a job that we are prevented from doing while other people are suffering whilst working hard.

"He should include power for permanent secretaries to take over the running of their department within enhanced ability to be able to make decisions that are necessary and he should include a budget for Northern Ireland so we can start to get control of our public finances and protect our absolutely essential public services."

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