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Northern Ireland Assembly meets: Boris Johnson to visit Belfast – as parties slam DUP over failure to nominate Speaker

  • Secretary of State Brandon Lewis ‘disappointed’ over events
  • Michelle O’Neill says Assembly carries ‘hopes and expectations’ of public
  • Alliance’s Naomi Long says DUP shouldn’t ‘gamble’ with devolution

Boris Johnson will visit Northern Ireland on Monday in the wake of the ongoing row after the DUP failed to nominate a new Stormont Speaker on Friday.

Stormont’s 90 MLAs gathered in the Stormont chamber to sign into the Assembly, amid confirmation from the DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that his party would not be nominating a speaker.

The parties nominated Ulster Unionist Party MLA Mike Nesbitt and SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone to stand as speakers, however the DUP said they would not agree to the nominations.

The move to nominate the speakers then formally failed following a vote in the chamber, with current Speaker Alex Maskey adjourning the Assembly.

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, one of the candidates for Speaker, was not elected in the cross-community vote.

His candidacy was backed by 51.9% of MLAs, but failed due to a lack of cross-community support.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone also failed in a bid to be Speaker, receiving 71.3% of the vote but also failing to receive sufficient cross-community support.

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Speaking following the vote, Michelle O’Neill told the media gathered in the Stormont lobby the DUP’s actions were “not tolerable”.

She confirmed John O’Dowd would take over as the interim Infrastructure Department minister, with Nichola Mallon having lost her seat for the SDLP in last week’s election.

"The public deserve better. I don’t think we are surprised but we are still entitled to be shocked,” Ms O’Neill said.

"The public came out in record numbers to elect politicians to work together. The DUP are preventing all of that by their actions today. I am disappointed for the public.”

The DUP’s Gordon Lyons told BBC NI’s Evening Extra: “We have a mandate. I want a stable Assembly I want a stable Executive. We can’t do that while the protocol is here. We need to find another way.”

On the impending visit of Mr Johnson, Mr Lyons added: “We have never taken others as their word. We have had some good words from the government in recent days. This comes down to actions.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said it was a “shameful day for the DUP” and said her party were “here ready to work”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader described the current situation following the vote as “shameful”.

Earlier, Mr Donaldson told the media: “My members will be signing the roll and taking their seats for the first time.

"As I have made clear this morning we have taken the decision not at this stage to support the election of a speaker.”


DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leads his Assembly team in Great Hall at Stormont

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leads his Assembly team in Great Hall at Stormont

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leads his Assembly team in Great Hall at Stormont

At the start of the plenary session in the chamber, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said it is "disappointing" that a new speaker has not been nominated for the Assembly.

"Great to have MLAs back in Stormont today, but disappointing to see a Speaker has not yet been nominated," Mr Lewis tweeted.

"The people of Northern Ireland voted and deserve a stable and accountable devolved government. I urge the parties to come together and form an Executive."

Mr Donaldson’s colleague Paul Givan stood up in the Stormont chamber: “The DUP received a mandate to remove the Irish Sea border and our mandate will be given respect. Our message is now clear, it is time for action, words will no longer suffice.

"It is because we want these institutions to endure that we are taking the action we are taking today.

"Northern Ireland works best when we work together. Those who now call for majority rule need to recommit themselves to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

"We will not be dictated to, we will be treated with respect and equality. Now is the time for action."

The decision from the DUP means the Assembly will not be able to function without a speaker even in a reduced role – a move criticised by the other parties in the chamber.

Sinn Fein vice president Ms O'Neill told MLAs the public is hoping that Northern Ireland's elected parties have "the maturity and courage" to take responsibility, adding that "there is absolutely no reason we should be in a rolling crisis, even for one second".

It is the job of politicians to "properly fund" the healthcare service and to agree a three-year budget and invest in the health service, Ms O'Neill said.

"This is our hour of decision, not tomorrow, and not for a moment longer can the DUP deny democracy, punish the public, boycott this Assembly and executive, and prevent us from putting money in people's pockets.

"Every one party in this chamber told the electorate that they would turn up on day one. Well, the DUP have failed on day one."

Ms Long used her Assembly speech to address the challenges facing politics in Northern Ireland and to attack the DUP.

The Alliance Party leader said: "We are here today in order to elect a speaker so the Assembly can go about its business so that those who have been elected can serve the people who elected them.

"We come here with a can-do attitude and a commitment to serve the people who elected us.

"Many of us in this chamber represent people who did not consent to Brexit in the first place. And yet we turned up for work.

"To turn up here, to sign in, to take salaries and to refuse to take seats is a slap in the face for every family that struggles to make ends meet, for every person who sits on a waiting list.

"I would appeal to the DUP to think long and hard before they insult the electorate by doing so today."

UUP leader Doug Beattie urged that an Assembly speaker be elected so that the public's concerns can be addressed.

After standing in silence before MLAs for several seconds, Mr Beattie said: "Silence. The same silence we were subjected to for three years when Sinn Fein walked out. The same silence we're now going to be subjected to if the DUP don't support a speaker."

"People will go cold and hungry in their homes, and from this place there will be silence," he said.

"We can today make the point in regards to the protocol, but also elect a speaker in order to do some business so we don't have silence."

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole told the Assembly that he was happy to nominate party colleague Patsy McGlone as speaker.

But he said: "All of my words are clearly in vain because the DUP has decided to thwart democracy.

"They are also demeaning democracy.

"In stifling the creation of an executive and the election of a speaker, the DUP has demeaned the entire democratic process.

"Shame on them."

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