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DUP’s Donaldson rejects he’s ‘angry’ over scrapping of double jobbing, as Michelle O’Neill welcomes ‘about turn’

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has rejected claims he is “angry” after Boris Johnson confirmed his government was withdrawing plans to bring back the return of double jobbing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson confirmed during Prime Minister’s Questions the government would be withdrawing the amendment on the matter from the House of Lords.

Speaking to BBC NI following the announcement, Mr Donaldson confirmed he “hasn’t spoken” to the government about the decision and acknowledged it was for Mr Johnson to “make the call” on the amendment.

Mr Donaldson also hit out at other Stormont parties following criticism of him and the DUP, as he criticised those who signed a joint letter opposing the proposals.

When asked his reaction to the decision and whether he was angry, Mr Donaldson replied: “I am not angry at all. I am full of energy I am focused on the job I have.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill claimed the move to drop the plans was as a result of “cross-party opposition” at Stormont.

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In a statement released following Mr Johnson’s remarks, Ms O’Neill welcomed the decision and said an “about turn” on the issue was “the right thing to do”.

She also accused it of being a “cynical and crude attempt” to “prop up the DUP”, after critics had accused the Government of trying to help Sir Jeffrey Donaldson make his planned return to Stormont, allowing him to contest the upcoming Assembly election and avoiding a risky by-election.

The Government had sought to amend legislation currently going through parliament to allow MPs to return to their Assembly seat without immediately vacating their Westminster seat and triggering a by-election.

“These plans did not reflect what was agreed by the parties and governments in New Decade, New Approach,” added Ms O’Neill.

“They were roundly rejected and rightly opposed by the majority of Assembly parties and proves yet again that the DUP is out of step and the Tories out of order.

“Yesterday the local parties wrote jointly to Boris Johnson opposing this amendment, and today’s Tory u-turn is a result of that cross-party opposition.”

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Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O'Neill

PA

Michelle O'Neill

On Tuesday it was revealed six parties at Stormont wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to ditch the contentious plan to bring back dual mandates.

If voted through, it would have allowed MPs to also sit in the Stormont Assembly and would have seen the return of the practice that was banned in Northern Ireland back in 2016 following the MPs expenses scandal.

Mr Donaldson said he felt the amendment “offered an opportunity” for a number of senior politicians to maintain their influence at Westminster.

"It would have been open to any member of Parliament and I at least had the honesty to indicate if the amendment had of been put forward and approved, I would have considered availing of that opportunity for the short term it would have covered,” he added.

He also criticised SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the Ulster Unionist Party for jointly signing the open letter to the Prime Minister alongside Sinn Fein.

"Perhaps Lord Empey could explain to the people of Northern Ireland why his leader co signed a letter with the leader of Sinn Fein, abstentionist MPs who don’t work full time as member’s of Parliament. Does Doug approve of that, because he hasn’t said he disapproves,” Mr Donaldson added.

Reacting to the news, the Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey called the move “a victory for positive dialogue and engagement”.

“You don`t have to threaten to crash the institutions for unionism to have influence with Government. There is another way,” he said.

“Positive engagement with Government and parties is the way forward for unionism as we redouble our efforts to solve the problems created by the ill-judged Protocol by putting forward positive plans to ensure long term stability for Northern Ireland and its institutions.”

While TUV party chairman Jordan Armstrong said the decision by Mr Johnson was “welcome news”.

“Hopefully our MPs will now focus on the serious job they have been given to do at Westminster rather than suggesting that they need more to do,” he said.

“We don’t need Unionist MP treating their work in the Mother of Parliaments as anything other than a fulltime job.”

The letter to Boris Johnson from six of the Stormont parties was signed by Alliance leader Naomi Long, Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey, UUP leader Doug Beattie, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

They wrote: “As leaders of a wide spectrum of Northern Ireland political parties, we are writing to stress our firm opposition to your Government’s amendment in the House of Lords on the reintroduction of dual mandates/double-jobbing, including on a time-limited basis.

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“The roles of MP and MLA are full time roles, and it is not possible for someone to simultaneously do full justice to both. There has been a broad consensus across the political spectrum for several years against this practice, and we had regarded this matter as settled and closed with the legal prohibition in the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014.

“There has been no consultation with the Northern Ireland parties regarding this measure and it has been brought forward just months away from an Assembly election, which cannot be seen as impartial benefitting as it does only one party.

“It has also departed from the stated position of the Northern Ireland Office that such amendments would only be considered where ‘sufficient consensus’ exists: in fact, all parties with the exception of the DUP are firmly opposed to any return to double jobbing.

“Furthermore, we have significant concerns that the implications of this amendment could fuel political instability, in direct contradiction of the stated purpose of the Bill.

“We strongly urge your Government to withdraw this amendment.”

Sir Jeffrey has denied suggestions that his party made a deal with the Government over the proposal.

He also questioned the criticism from other parties, noting that the matter had been raised before Christmas and idea had first been suggested by the Labour Party.

“So I take with a pinch of salt some of the outrage we’re now seeing manifested by some of the political parties,” he said on Monday.


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