Northern Ireland Assembly fails to elect new speaker as Protocol row rages on

The move will stop the devolved Assembly from being able to function

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The Stormont Assembly has failed to elect a new speaker after the DUP said it would not support the process as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The move will stop the devolved Assembly from being able to function.

It comes after DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he is sending a “clear message” to the EU and the UK Government about resolving issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The new 90 MLAs met for the first time in the Stormont chamber on Friday after last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party for the first time.

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

The first order of business was for MLAs to sign the roll of membership, before the sitting was suspended for lunch.

The DUP has also said 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 protocol.

Unionists oppose the post-Brexit treaty because of the economic barriers it creates between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill described the DUP move as “disgraceful” and Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was “incredibly frustrating”.

Michelle O’Neill
Michelle O’Neill

Speaking shortly before the plenary session began, 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.

“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.”

He added: “The choice is clear: if the European Union is serious about protecting the political institutions and the Belfast agreement, and its successor agreements then they know what to do.

“Equally the same message is there for our own Government as well.

“The ball is firmly at the foot of the Government.”

Ms O’Neill accused the DUP of “disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess”.

“Today is the day we should be forming an executive to put money in people’s pockets and to start to fix our health service,” she said.

“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.