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Sinn Fein to ‘keep trying’ to get a Stormont speaker elected

Michelle O’Neill speaks to the media after the Stormont Assembly failed for the second time to elect a new speaker (/PA)
Michelle O’Neill speaks to the media after the Stormont Assembly failed for the second time to elect a new speaker (/PA)

Attempts to resurrect Stormont will continue, Michelle O’Neill has vowed.

The Sinn Fein vice president was speaking after the DUP blocked attempts to elect a new speaker for the second time.

The DUP is maintaining its position that it wants to see action from the UK Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol before backing a new speaker to allow the Assembly to start fully functioning again.

It described the recall of the Assembly on Monday as a “stunt”.

The two nominations for the role, the Ulster Unionists’ Mike Nesbitt and the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone, failed to secure the necessary cross-community support from MLAs.

The plenary session of the Assembly was then suspended as business cannot be carried out without a speaker.

MLAs were in the chamber on Monday following a recall petition brought by Sinn Fein to elect a speaker, deputy speakers and to appoint a first minister and deputy first minister.

Ms O’Neill said her party will try again to get a new speaker elected.

“We had our second attempt today to try and get things up and running but unfortunately the DUP stand-off continues,” she told media in the Great Hall.

“We will come back again, we will do this again, because I’m not giving up. I believe in making this institution work.

“The DUP are punishing the public. It is the public who are missing out. It is the public who are being held to ransom because of their actions.

“That being said, it is incumbent on all of us who have been given a mandate to try to make politics work. It is incumbent on all of us who want to be around the Executive table, who want to be taking on the challenges of today to support workers and families through the cost-of-living crisis, to keep coming back and try to actually get this up and running.

“The public voted for us to roll up our sleeves and provide solutions to the problems of today. I’m determined to try to do that. I’ll keep coming back to this if that is what it takes to get the DUP over the line and work with the rest of the parties.”

Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister dismissed the DUP’s claim that the recall of the Assembly was a stunt, saying the only stunt pulled in recent weeks has been their blocking of the restoration of the power-sharing institutions.

“I spoke as a newly elected MLA because I want to get on with the job that I’ve been elected to do,” she said.

“That’s not only to establish an Executive but to actually scrutinise the work of the departments.

“We need to get on with the work so that we can help people in Northern Ireland that are currently facing hardship.

“Any consequence from now, from the day that the DUP walked away from the Executive, any hardships that people are facing are on the heads of the DUP.

“Whether that’s people who cannot afford to feed their children or heat their homes, those are the decisions of the DUP that are affecting the people of Northern Ireland.”

Earlier, DUP MLA Paul Givan told the chamber the recall was not a “serious attempt” to restore power-sharing.

He told MLAs: “Today’s recall is another attempt at majority rule and has no credibility when it comes forward from the party that kept these institutions down for three years.

“The public will see the hypocrisy for what it is from Sinn Fein.

“This isn’t a serious attempt to restore the principles of power-sharing and these institutions. It is a stunt.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler said his party wanted all-party talks to begin on a programme for government.

He told the recalled Assembly: “The UUP have written today to the head of the civil service to convene all-party talks to establish a programme for government and the minister for finance to reopen the public consultation on the budget.

“These are measures which should be done now to restore the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland that we all purport to serve.”

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the number of MLAs who support the Northern Ireland Protocol increased in the recent Assembly election.

He asked MLAs: “Why is the DUP holding the people of Northern Ireland to hostage?

“They say it is all about the protocol.

“The protocol is an international treaty signed between the UK and the European Union.

“The number of MLAs who support the protocol went up in the last election.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party has so far blocked the election of a speaker and the formation of an Executive following the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, as part of its protest against the protocol.

The DUP also faced criticism last week after concerns were raised that the absence of an Executive will prevent a UK-wide £400 discount on energy bills going to Northern Irish households.