Belfast Telegraph

Let's vote: Belfast Telegraph readers say poll should be called before Assembly restored but DUP's Campbell says it would be 'pointless'


Calls have been made for a return to the ballot box ahead of Northern Ireland's power sharing institutions being restored.
Calls have been made for a return to the ballot box ahead of Northern Ireland's power sharing institutions being restored.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast Telegraph readers have voted in favour of an Assembly election being held before any restoration of Stormont's power-sharing institutions.

However, one DUP MP voted against another election. Gregory Campbell said - deal or no deal - a return to the ballot box would be "pointless".

The East Londonderry MP said an election would see parties harden their positions making any deal after a vote much more difficult to achieve.

"I struggle to see the sense or rationale in the Secretary of State calling an election if a deal is not agreed," he said.

"The vast majority of people will be asking 'what are we voting for'. The big issues would remain and we would have four or five weeks campaigning with parties digging into previously stated positions and not moving from them. How does that help?

"And although no one should second guess the result, maybe other than a few seats ups or down, the DUP and Sinn Fein would be returned as the two biggest parties."

He said if there was a deal the current mandate should be allowed to run its course to allow the people to judge how successful it was.

"The best thing to do is to get a deal everyone can live with, stop pontificating. An election would make matters worse."

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved administration for the past three years. Sinn Fein collapsed the institutions in January 2017 in the wake of the ongoing RHI scandal and what the party called a series of broken promises on an Irish language act and legacy matters.

Talks resumed last week after the Christmas break. Ahead of the festive period the process was paused with Secretary of State Julian Smith saying the DUP was not on board, meaning a text of a potential agreement could not be published.

There have been growing calls for an election ahead of any resumption of power sharing.

The former MLA Eamonn McCann, who lost his seat in the snap poll in 2017 following the collapse of the institutions, said the people should be allowed to speak.

The People Before Profit Derry Strabane District Councillor said: "There should be no return to Stormont without an Assembly election. Parties which did nothing but manoeuvre for advantage for three wasted years should not automatically be handed back seats.

"If Stormont were reanimated under present circumstances, Arlene Foster would be First Minister, Michelle O'Neill DFM, the RHI report unpublished, party strengths on the Hill frozen at 2016 levels. Anybody cheering for that outcome? We need an election. Let the people speak."

Our Friday, we asked readers on our Facebook page if they thought an election should be held before MLAs again take their seats.

Just over 2,000 votes were cast with 53% saying there should be a return to the polls. DUP MP Gregory Campbell was one of the 929 - or 47% - to vote against.

VOTE: Indications suggest power sharing at Stormont could be restored in the coming days. But there have been calls for an election to be held ahead of any return of our MLAs. What do you think?

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Friday, January 3, 2020

Mr Campbell said if the parties did reach agreement they should be allowed to complete the mandate which runs out in 18 months to allow the people to "cast judgment" on the work done during that period.

He added: "It would be wrong to convene an election when there is no Assembly or Executive up and running.

"Likewise it would be intolerable to let the mandate run its course and have nothing reconstituted. It would be as unacceptable then as it is now, it would be counterproductive."

He added: "We should get a deal. Let the mandate run its course and then the people can decide on if it was a good or bad deal."

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Gregory Campbell of the DUP

There has been a legal obligation to hold an Assembly election since the parties failed to form an Executive after the March 2017 election.

The law currently states an assembly election must be called should there be no agreement between the parties by Monday, January 13.

Similar deadlines over the past three years have been put back through a series of law changes.

Secretary of State Julian Smith has hinted an election could be called.

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Campbell said if there was no agreement by Monday all eyes would be on the Secretary of State's next move. He said the DUP was prepared "financially and physically" for any return to the ballot box.

"Any analysis I have seen says Sinn Fein is due to suffer a much bigger loss of seats than the DUP. And if Sinn Fein are up for that, that is their business.

"An election would make matters worse... but the DUP is ready for an election next month - should it come."

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