Assembly members yesterday demanded an ‘immediate’ meeting of the stalled Stormont Executive — but without a vote.
Ulster Unionists accepted a DUP amendment isolating Sinn Fein as the cause of the 152-day hold-up.
The move meant Sinn Fein members were not required to enter the ‘no’ lobby as the motion — “greatly regretting the impact on the electorate” — went through on a voice vote.
And it was left to the SDLP, also included in the combined motion, to launch the strongest attack of the day on republicans. The party’s Alban Maginness said Sinn Fein had negotiated a deficient deal at St Andrews which eroded the substance of the Good Friday Agreement and had been attempting to “claw back” the position since.
The North Belfast MLA warned Sinn Fein’s continued boycott of the Executive was playing into the hands of the “most intransigent elements” of the DUP, leaving “nothing but ill-will” inside the Assembly and outside.
And referring to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adam’s recent comparison of unionists to white supremacists in South Africa, Mr Maginness asked: “How can you build trust and confidence with the leading unionist party... by insulting them?”
But Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, earlier in the debate, said: “The problem we face is not that the Executive is not meeting, but that there are some in this house who have yet to come to terms with what partnership government means.
“What we should be considering is not when the Executive meets, but that when it does meet, will it be in real partnership government?”
Ms Ni Chuilin, also North Belfast, set out the issues at the core of the impasse, including the transfer of justice powers and the introduction of an act to protect the Irish language.
Neither First Minister Peter Robinson or Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness attended the debate yesterday afternoon, nor — as UUP Assembly deputy leader Danny Kennedy pointed out — did Junior Ministers Gerry Kelly or Jeffrey Donaldson or their officials. Only a handful of Sinn Fein MLAs attended and even at its height there was rarely more than 20 out of the total of 108 MLAs present during the entire debate.