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Northern Ireland parties furious as DUP casts Stormont into chaos

Torrent of criticism after Donaldson finally acts on his threat to pull First Minister Givan out of the Executive

The DUP is facing widespread criticism for plunging Stormont into crisis by pulling out Paul Givan as First Minister.

Every other party except the TUV accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of collapsing the Executive for selfish political reasons that would harm the people of Northern Ireland.

There was speculation May’s Assembly election could be fast-forwarded, with voters going to the polls as early as March 10.

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The DUP and Sinn Fein signalled their support for that prospect.

Mary Lou McDonald said: “We cannot stagger on in the months ahead without a functioning Executive and Sinn Fein will not facilitate this. In the absence of a functioning Executive, an early election must be called and the people must have their say.”

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Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, Mary-Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at Europa Hotel. Credit: Rebecca Black

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, Mary-Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at Europa Hotel. Credit: Rebecca Black

PA

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, Mary-Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill at Europa Hotel. Credit: Rebecca Black

But other parties were more cautious and warned it would endanger legislation currently before the Assembly.

With Mr Givan’s resignation coming into force at midnight, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is also out of office.

The Executive will no longer be able to meet, and while other ministers remain in charge of their departments, they are restricted in what decisions they can make.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I will remain in post, but the task of rebuilding our health service has been made all the more difficult. A three-year budget was crucial for fixing our waiting lists and funding our mental health and cancer strategies.

“I have sought urgent legal clarification regarding the decisions on Covid restrictions I had really hoped could have been made by the Executive next week. My priority is and will remain supporting our health and social care system, but patients and staff deserve better than this.”

The Taoiseach branded Mr Givan’s resignation “a very damaging move”.

“It is absolutely vital for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland that the Executive is delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, particularly now as we emerge from the Covid pandemic,” Micheal Martin said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the DUP’s decision was “deeply regrettable” as efforts to address unionist concerns about the protocol were ongoing.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said he was “extremely disappointed”.

He urged the DUP to reinstate him immediately, but added that the protocol was “causing serious problems, unbalancing the delicate and hard-won political stability in Northern Ireland”.

He pledged to speak to the leaders of the five main parties and to Dublin to “encourage a return to stable devolved government”.

Delivering his address in a Belfast hotel, Mr Givan said the Irish Sea border had created trade barriers with Britain and had undermined a cornerstone of power-sharing.

“Today marks the end of what has been the privilege of my lifetime: to serve as the First Minister of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“When I first entered the Assembly 12 years ago, I never expected to have the opportunity to lead the government and serve the people of Northern Ireland as First Minister. Holding this office is one that comes with a heavy responsibility and I have often felt the weight of this burden, to do what is right for all our people.

“Working together as a five-party Executive has its challenges, but over the past eight months, working with the Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, we made progress and have made a difference that will improve our society.”

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Paul Givan leaves after announcing his resignation as First Minister

Paul Givan leaves after announcing his resignation as First Minister

Paul Givan leaves after announcing his resignation as First Minister

But he said the power-sharing institutions were once again under pressure: “The delicate balance created by the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements has been impacted by the agreement made by the United Kingdom and the European Union which created the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Mr Givan’s resignation after just 231 days makes him the shortest serving First Minister.

In a speech afterwards to senior party figures in the same hotel, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted that unionist concerns about the protocol had been disregarded for too long.

“Now is the moment when we say ‘enough’,” he said. “If we are to move to the next stage of building a shared future, then humiliation of one side by the other is not the answer. We will not achieve reconciliation through retribution. Therefore, now is the moment to repair our politics, reset relations and restore fairness for all.

“Now is the moment to send the clear signal that we want Stormont free from the long shadows of the protocol. The Irish Sea border must go.”

He later said he’d told Foreign Secretary Liz Truss January 31 had been his deadline for securing movement on the protocol.

He said trade checks on GB produce should be applied only to goods set for onward transportation into the Republic.

The DUP leader said his party had given the UK and EU space to find solutions, but he claimed that sufficient progress had not been made.

“We wanted to be reasonable rather than reactionary,” he added. “We wanted to be practical rather than pedantic. I want devolution to work and to be respected across all communities in Northern Ireland.

“But for it to work, unionists as well as nationalists must be respected.”


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