Belfast Telegraph

Doug Beattie launches bid to have Stormont sit for second day

Doug Beattie
Doug Beattie

By Gareth Cross and Mark Edwards

UUP MLA Doug Beattie has tabled his own recall petition to have Stormont sit for a second day on Tuesday.

Mr Beattie wants MLAs the Assembly to meet to discuss the effect of 1,000 days without devolution on Northern Ireland.

MLAs are set to return to the Stormont chamber for the first time since 2017 on Monday to discuss changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws introduced from Westminster.

Anti-abortion campaign group Both Lives Matter said 31 MLAs had signed a petition to force a recall of the Assembly to discuss a motion to put the issue back in the hands of local politicians.

However, a ministerial executive will only be formed once the DUP and Sinn Fein resolve their long-standing differences and agree to enter into a coalition again.

The UUP's Steve Aiken said his party would attend, however, Mr Beattie dismissed the move, saying it would have "zero chance" of success.

Mr Beattie said if MLAs could attend the chamber on Monday then there was no reason they couldn't be there on Tuesday.

"The fact is Monday will change nothing unless there is an Executive in place. We have had over 1,000 days of spiralling health waiting lists, crisis in education and buckling public services," the former soldier said.

We don't need a pointless talking shop. Naomi Long

“If we can be in the chamber to debate abortion reform on Monday, then we can be there on Tuesday too to discuss how the country is falling down around us.

Locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
Locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)

“This farce has gone on for too long and pressure must be applied. There is no talks process. There isn’t even talks about a talks process.  The DUP and Sinn Fein have been allowed to sit around with their dummy thrown out for too long.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said that Mr Beattie's recall petition was another "stunt".

"We don't need a pointless talking shop," she wrote on Twitter.

"Get back into talks, get the issues resolved and get an Executive formed so Ministers can take decisions and the Assembly Committees can function."

DUP Assembly Chief Whip Gordon Lyons said that his party were prepared to nominate Ministers to an Executive on Monday.

"We want to get back to work at Stormont legislating and taking decisions on issues that matter to the people of Northern Ireland. Whilst Sinn Fein have been content to allow Westminster to impose this liberalised abortion regime we believe it should be debated and decided upon here in Northern Ireland," the East Antrim MLA said.

Daniel McCrossan
Daniel McCrossan

"There is an obvious reason why Sinn Fein may be uncomfortable with Monday’s sitting. If there is no “real business” carried out it will be because Sinn Fein continue to prefer boycott over debate and decision making."

Meanwhile Diocese of Clogher Bishop Larry Duffy has called on Northern Ireland's political leaders to "face up to their responsibility to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable, such as unborn babies in the womb and their mothers".

He accused parliament of "cynically manipulating" the political impasse to allow for abortion reform.

"I appeal to political representatives to set aside differences and to use the opportunity of the assembly meeting on Monday next and to assert their own authority on this critical question," he said.

The DUP are pretending this will stop abortion legislation. Colum Eastwood

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan told the BBC he will be attending the chamber and said he understood other party MLAs could also be present.

The SDLP is a "pro-life party" but its members are free to vote with their conscience on abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

His party leader leader Colum Eastwood criticised the recall but has yet to decide if his party will attend. But he said the SDLP will not "play to the DUP's tune".

"I think they have to be honest with people, they are pretending to people who have concerns about some of these issues that they can stop them, but they can't," he told the BBC.

"They know that they can't because there will not be an executive formed on Monday morning."

"Let's be honest with people, the DUP are pretending this will stop abortion legislation on Monday, it will not - that is a lie."

Laws on abortion reform and same-sex marriage are to be introduced should power sharing not be restored by Monday.

The recall of the Assembly will not prevent the changes unless an Executive was formed. For that to happen Sinn Fein would need to be on board.

It has already said it will play no part in Monday's Assembly and dismissed the recall as a "pointless political stunt".

The recall came after former police ombudsman Baroness O'Loan wrote a letter to Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith urging him to recall the Assembly before the change to abortion laws comes in next week.

However, Mr Smith does not have the power to do so, and the focus shifted to a Stormont rule that allows 30 MLAs to trigger a recall by the Assembly Speaker.

TUV leader Jim Allister and Ulster Unionists Robin Swann, Robbie Butler and Roy Beggs signed the recall petition.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the recall would provide an opportunity for MLAs to show their opposition to the proposed law changes. "Hopefully we will be able to debate the issue on Monday," she added.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has confirmed it will sit at noon on Monday.

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