SINN FÉIN has claimed the DUP’s refusal to accept a nationalist First Minister is ‘the only remaining explanation’ for its continued refusal for form an Executive.
A recall today to elect an Assembly speaker and pave the way for the formation of an Executive once again failed without the DUP’s support.
As the leader of Sinn Féin in the North, Michelle O’Neill is the First Minister Designate after her party won the most seats in the May 2022 Assembly Election.
However, she warned that today’s seventh attempt to elect a Speaker and form an Executive could be the last due to the DUP’s intransigence.
The DUP, meanwhile, has labelled the recall a ‘cynically orchestrated’ stunt by Sinn Féin amid looming public sector strikes.
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris described the latest developments as ‘disappointing’.
The DUP has refused to return to Stormont since the 2022 election, citing concerns over post-Brexit trade arrangements and their impact on Northern Ireland’s status in the United Kingdom.
However, speaking today, Ms O’Neill said: “The only remaining explanation for the DUP boycott is the refusal to accept a nationalist First Minister.”
She added that if DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson ‘does not change his approach, then this sitting may well be the final one of this Assembly’.
“The public looking on here today are not seeing the change they voted for.”
‘It is a stunt’
However, despite today’s recall being the last opportunity to form an Executive before tomorrow’s deadline imposed by the British Government, the DUP accused Sinn Féin of scheduling the sitting to coincide with Thursday’s public sector pay strikes.
According to unions, around 170,000 people are due to go on strike tomorrow in one of the largest days of industrial action in years.
“This recall is much like the five others that came before it. It is a stunt,” said the DUP’s Gordon Lyons.
“It has been cynically orchestrated to coincide with the industrial action scheduled across our public sector.
“This has been done in an attempt to make the public believe that the restoration of the Assembly today will lead to the cancellation of the strikes tomorrow.
“Sinn Fein know full well that there is no prospect of a speaker being elected today.
“They know there will not be ministers nominated today.
“And they know that if even those do happen, the pay issue will not be settled today but will be subject to negotiation between employers and unions.
“It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.”
Mr Lyons added that his party supports workers and that funding promised by the Secretary of State to address public sector pay issues should be released immediately and not be conditional on the formation of an Executive.
Speaking after today’s failed attempt to restore power, Mr Heaton-Harris said that the British Government will take a ‘pragmatic’ approach to the situation.
This could include a further extension to the deadline to form an Executive, after previous deadlines were missed in October 2022 and January 2023.
However, if no deadline is forthcoming, a new Assembly Election may be required.
“It is disappointing that the Assembly was unable to elect a speaker and restore the Northern Ireland Executive today,” he said.
“The return of a locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government is the best way to govern Northern Ireland.
“However, in the absence of an Executive, the Government will proceed with a pragmatic and reasonable approach to support Northern Ireland.”