Renewing Trident debate splits vote at Stormont
The divisive nature of the debate over the renewal of the UK's Trident nuclear defensive system was illustrated in stark fashion at Stormont when a vote on the issue was tied.
Forty four Assembly members supported Sinn Fein's motion questioning the multibillion-pound expenditure, while 44 members opposed it. The draw meant the motion fell.
Responding to the result, Assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said: "That sounds like mutual deterrence, does it not?"
The motion would not have had any practical policy impact if it has passed, as defence remains a reserved matter at Westminster.
The debate at Stormont came a day after Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson suggested Trident's base could be moved to Northern Ireland if opposition to its continued presence in Scotland proved insurmountable.
Addressing MLAs in Parliament Buildings, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy insisted it was important to have the debate, stressing the need to make the positions of the devolved institutions clear. The Scottish Parliament recently held a similar debate on Trident, with a majority of members opposing renewal.
Mr Murphy said: "Of course, the British Government are entitled to have their own defence policy and follow their own defence strategies, as supported or proposed in the British House of Commons.
"However, such spending plans have a direct impact across Britain and, indeed, here in Ireland where people will be affected by the subsequent lack of money available to departments and the systems of public spending here."
Mr Murphy added: "The Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly speaking with one voice on an issue like this strengthens the hand of those whom we ask to speak to the British Government about the impact of their austerity policies and spending plans on the people whom we represent."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt criticised Sinn Fein for tabling the debate. He contrasted the move with Sinn Fein's support last week for transferring responsibility for the devolved issue of welfare reform back to Westminster.
"Now, to complete the exercise of turning the world on its head, they want to debate a matter that is not, never has been and never will be devolved: defence," he said.
Mr Nesbitt added: "We believe, along with the majority of our forward-thinking and informed citizens, that we must support investment in our future and security. While we sincerely hope that the world will be a much more peaceful place over the lifetime of this Trident replacement programme, we as a party do not believe that we can take the unjustifiable risk of unilateral disarmament."