Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Nobody has any dignity after pantomime Stormont Assembly recall

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The pantomime season came early to Northern Ireland today as our Assembly returned from its 1,000 day absence.

A piece of high-class political theatre it was not. Farce at its finest was on display as MLAs engaged in stunts, squabbled and then stormed out of the chamber in quick succession of each other.

There were never mass demonstrations on our streets demanding ‘Bring Back Stormont’. But after watching today’s proceedings, many people will now be saying ‘Please Don’t’.

Nobody involved in this spectacular sham emerged with any dignity.

The sitting was meant to begin at midday but was put back an hour amidst heightened speculation over the arrival of Attorney General, John Larkin, and what it would mean.

The word was that the DUP would bring forward a Protection of Life Bill, hours before abortion was due to be legalised at midnight.

Sinn Fein, Alliance, the Greens and People Before Profit boycotted the proceedings.

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Outside Parliament Buildings, those both in favour and against the decriminalisation of abortion and same-sex marriage made their voices heard. Anti-gay marriage campaigners assembled at Sir Edward Carson’s statute.

Pro-choice campaigners were a little further up the hill. “What do we want the right to choose? When do we want it now!” they shouted.

At the steps of Stormont, pro-life activists stood silently holding their placards and white roses which they said were symbols of the innocence of the unborn.

In the chamber, unionist MLAs and the SDLP took their seats at 1pm and awaited Speaker Robin Newton. He effectively dashed the hopes of those on his own party benches by saying that no business could happen until a new speaker was elected with cross-community support.

DUP MLA Paul Givan was first on his feet to insist that advice from the Attorney General indicated standing orders could be suspended to allow the legislation to be considered.

For once, TUV leader, Jim Allister, was in total harmony with the DUP. The Speaker said he was content with his legal advice. He declined repeated requests from Arlene Foster and DUP MLAs to share that advice or to adjourn so he could meet Mr Larkin.

Time and time again as he was “implored” by his own party to do so, he said no. If the DUP wanted a John Bercow-type Speaker, this one wasn’t playing ball. Mr Newton certainly proved his impartiality today.

After making a short speech, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood declared that he and his MLAs were off. Shouts of “Shame! Shame!” rang out as they left the chamber.

Mrs Foster said it was disgraceful that Northern Ireland would now have “the most liberal abortion laws in Europe”. It was not “the end of the matter”, she warned before the DUP walked out.

UUP leader Robin Swann delivered a few lines, and then his MLAs, Mr Allister and independent unionist Claire Sugden were gone.

The Speaker was left addressing an empty chamber. “The Assembly is adjourned,” he said to literally nobody.

After almost three years off stage, this was a pathetic performance by the Stormont players that brings the whole production into question.

An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
MLAs in Stormont Assembly for first time since March 2017. Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Pacemaker Press Belfast 21-10-2019: Pro Life campaigners pictured at Stormont ahead of todays ruling that will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Independent pro life campaigner Clive Johnston pictured with a life sized illustration of a babies progress before birth. Pictured By: Arthur Allison.
Pacemaker Press Belfast 21-10-2019: Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Pictured By: Arthur Allison.
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Pro Life campaigners pictured at Stormont ahead of todays ruling that will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-life posters at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Members of Amnesty International gathered at Stormont today in support of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. The deadline for Northern Ireland to block the introduction of same-sex marriage and end prosecution for women accessing abortions expires today. Speaking are Grain Teggart of Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Speaker Robin Newton pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 UUP Leader Robin Swann pictured with party members at Stormont where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 TUV Leader Jim Allister pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Gerry Carrol from people before profit pictured at Stormont where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-life posters at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLA’s returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Pro Life and Pro Choice activists take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, the Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Members of Pro Life take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, the Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Pro-choice supporters pose as they gather at Parliament buildings on the Stormont Estate in Belfast on October 21, 2019. (Photo by PAUL FAITH / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Arlene Foster (centre left) with DUP MLA's in Stormont Parliament buildings in Belfast, The Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. In an unorthodox step, the plenary session has been convened in the ongoing absence of a powersharing executive. See PA story ULSTER Politics . Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (L) walks past a painting of former Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley as she attends a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Two women watch a television screen as Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party speaks during a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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