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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says DUP is ‘sending a clear message to EU and UK Government’ as he confirms party will not nominate Assembly Speaker

Sinn Fein, Alliance, UUP and SDLP all condemn DUP as the Assembly will not be able to function

The DUP leader has said he is sending a clear message to the EU and UK Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed his party will not back a Speaker, which will leave the Assembly unable to function.

He spoke at Stormont on Friday afternoon, outlining why he had taken the decision, following heavy criticism from other political parties.

Speaking before the first meeting of the new Assembly, Sir Jeffrey said: "I am here with my Assembly team today for the first sitting of the Assembly.

"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."

Without cross community support, a Speaker cannot be installed and the Assembly cannot function, even in a reduced role.

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The DUP's decision has been strongly criticised by the other four main parties at Stormont, including Sinn Fein’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill who called it “shameful”.

Sir Jeffrey added: "I believe that we need to send a very clear message to the European Union and to our government that we are serious about getting this protocol sorted out. Because of the harm it is doing, undermining political stability, damaging the agreements that have formed the basis of political progress made in Northern Ireland, to our economy, contributing to the cost-of-living crisis, this matter needs to be dealt with.

"While others sit on their hands we are not prepared to do that. We need decisive action taken by the Government."

Reacting to the news, Ms O’Neill – who would have been nominated as the new First Minister – said on Twitter: “Today is the day we should be forming an Executive to put money in peoples pockets and to start to fix our health service.

“The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up. They are disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess. Shameful.”

The DUP had previously indicated that it will not nominate for the position of deputy First Minister, which will prevent the forming of a new Executive, as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

MLAs are currently meeting in the Stormont Assembly where they will sign the register and designate as nationalist, unionist or other.

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Ulster, the Alliance leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long called the DUP’s move “incredibly frustrating” for society.

She said the public had overwhelmingly backed candidates who promised to go back into government.

“The DUP has said a major challenge to them is the protocol, we’re not in denial about that, we understand that but we also need to deal with the health service, we need to deal the cost of living crisis.

“We need to deal with climate change, we need to deal with the budget.

“There are many challenges that face people in society and many of them are much more acute than the protocol.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath also told the programme his first thoughts were with his constituents who were struggling to pay bills.

“It looks like we’re not going to get an Executive formed because the DUP doesn’t want to do that, it obviously doesn’t believe that the issues that people face are important enough,” he said.

“They feel that they have other priorities other than people’s lives and livelihoods and they feel they need to take a stance which prevents all of us from dealing with that.”

He added that there was a mechanism in the New Decade New Approach agreement in January 2020, which allows in the event of disagreements for a shadow Assembly to be established with caretaker ministers.

“That very rule was put in by the DUP, but they are the very ones now that are going to try to frustrate that.”

Asked about the issues on the protocol, Mr McGrath said the best way to deal with it was to form an opinion with an Executive.

One suggestion of how to bypass the deadlock had been for the SDLP and UUP to designate as other, meaning they could join with Alliance to form the second largest designation in the Assembly.

This means Alliance could nominate a deputy First Minister without relying on the DUP to do so.

Mr McGrath said it would not be right for his party to change their designation after gaining their mandate as nationalists.

"You shouldn’t be trying to find solutions from the people that aren’t causing the problems,” he said.

Later on Good Morning Ulster, Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen called the DUP decision "extremely disappointing”.

"It doesn’t come as a surprise as they ratchet up their pressure on the UK government and the EU to deal with the protocol, this has been a long time coming.”

He said establishing as Assembly would allow many important functions to take place, such as establishing a fuel poverty taskforce.

“Yet again we’re in a situation where Northern Ireland will not have an Assembly, it will not have an Executive, people will come to harm,” he said.

"There needs to be a hard, long look at that. We cannot allow this situation to trundle on for many, many months.”

Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood said the DUP’s behaviour was “shameful”.

"Six years ago, the DUP backed the wrong horse. They gambled on a monumentally significant referendum that gave us Brexit,” she said.

"NI voted to remain, but now, six years later they have buyer’s remorse.

"Shameful. DUP care not one jot about NI or its people.”

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