Government accused of 'cosying up' to DUP after allowing debate
The Government came under fire last night for granting the DUP a full House of Commons debate just a week before the Assembly election.
DUP MPs will be able to choose the topic for the half-day debate on February 23 - just a week ahead of the March 2 poll.
Sinn Fein said it was further evidence of the Conservatives "cosying up" to the DUP at a time when the Government should be remaining neutral.
Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy said: "It gives the DUP a sense that they are of more importance than they really are and comes across as a reward for their arrogance and a reward for their attitude which has actually led to this election.
"It certainly is very unusual and is a further indication that the Tories are 'cosying up' to the DUP rather than acting as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, as they should be. This does not auger well for the negotiations following the election.
"The Government should be ensuring it stays neutral rather than propping up the DUP."
The move could potentially be viewed as being a breach of the so-called 'purdah' pre-election period when no parties are supposed to be given an advantage.
Alliance's Stephen Farry said: "Over recent weeks, there have been a number of controversial actions that have shown the UK Government appears to be tone deaf to the political subtleties of Northern Ireland.
"This proposed debate is entirely counterproductive and reinforces the current problems, making it harder to restore the devolved institutions following March 2."
The New Statesman political magazine quoted one Westminster 'insider' as saying the debate would become a "party political broadcast" for the DUP.
The source said the move represents "a remarkable intervention in the politics of Northern Ireland by the governing party at Westminster".
But Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said as the fourth largest party at Westminster, the DUP is entitled to a full half-day debate every six months, and the timing is a "coincidence".
"This has been in the diary for some considerable time and certainly since long before the Assembly election was called," the Lagan Valley MP said. "Anyone accusing us of cosying up to the Tories just does not understand Parliamentary rules and procedures."