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No Speaker at Stormont as DUP tears up the script

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Stormont is paralysed by a budget stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein which is threatening many victims' groups funding

Stormont is paralysed by a budget stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein which is threatening many victims' groups funding

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 15th September 2014 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Deputy Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin signs a book of condolence at in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, in memory of former DUP leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley. 

The funeral of Ian Paisley, the former Democratic Unionist Party leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, will take place this week.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 15th September 2014 - Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. Deputy Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin signs a book of condolence at in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, in memory of former DUP leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley. The funeral of Ian Paisley, the former Democratic Unionist Party leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, will take place this week.

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

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Stormont is paralysed by a budget stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein which is threatening many victims' groups funding

The Assembly has been left without a Speaker after a new bust-up at Stormont.

Relations between the two main parties plunged to new depths as the DUP reneged on a deal to appoint the first republican Speaker.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the “eyes of the world” were looking on to see whether the parties would be able to agree on what the SDLP called a “watershed moment”.

First Minister Peter Robinson said his party will still honour the deal — which will see Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin take up the office — but the matter should be dealt with as part of the multi-party talks being organised by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

DUP MLAs also insisted they are prepared to implement the arrangement — which stretches back to the last Assembly term, when the late Ian Paisley was First Minister — if Sinn Fein honours an agreement Mr McGuinness was involved in to implement welfare reform. Mr McGuinness has vehemently denied any agreement had been signed off.

Last night DUP minister Arlene Foster said: “We we will walk through the lobbies in support of a new Speaker when Sinn Fein are prepared to walk through the lobbies and vote for the welfare settlement that Martin McGuinness agreed to.”

But the Assembly could still have had its first nationalist Speaker — the SDLP’s John Dallat — had Sinn Fein been prepared to vote for him, along with Alliance and Ulster Unionists.

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Attempts to elect Mr Dallat and Ulster Unionist nominee Roy Beggs also fell on stony ground. The rebuff led to the SDLP accusing SF of putting its own party interests ahead of principles.

The DUP did not vote against Mr Dallat or Mr McLaughlin — who had been given full Speaker’s powers following the recent illness which led the DUP’s William Hay to stand down from the position. Instead its MLAs abstained.

But as the largest party in the Assembly, with 38 MLAs, it was able to deny the cross-community support required to elect a new Speaker by sitting on its hands.

This latest Stormont failure leaves meetings in the hands of the three deputies — Mr Dallat, Mr Beggs and Mr McLaughlin, who is Principal Deputy Speaker.

Mr McGuinness told MLAs: “I know that the eyes of the world — well, maybe not the eyes of the world, but the eyes of the world that we live in — are watching this House today to see whether we will be able to agree on who will be the Speaker of the Assembly going forward to the next Assembly election.

“I hope that people will honour their word... the time has come for there to be someone from the republican tradition in the Chair.”

But Mr Robinson argued: “The topic of welfare reform has now been put into the talks process that the Secretary of State is convening. Equally, the arrangements and modalities of devolution are on the talks agenda. The election of Speaker and of ministers will be part of that negotiation as well.

“The talks are to begin very shortly, so both of these matters can be dealt with together... we can ask the Secretary of State to front-load the talks agenda with these items. We are prepared to honour our existing agreements on both matters.”

But the SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: “This is another historic day for Northern Ireland... a day when we see that the real fault at the heart of the Executive is fractured relationships and backroom and back-door deals.”

Alliance leader David Ford said the failure to adhere to the deal would leave nationalists determined to retain the ‘blocking mechanism’ of a petition of concern, which requires majorities of both unionists and nationalists. At present only the DUP can trigger a petition automatically.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: “..it appears that today will be another marker in the disintegration of these institutions that we have witnessed over recent weeks and months.”

Background

The deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein for the first republican Speaker of the Assembly for the second half of this term goes back to the last term when the late Lord Bannside was First Minister.

But when Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness endorsed the former Speaker William Hay, the arrangement was supported by current First Minister Peter Robinson.


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