Stormont Assembly again fails to elect new speaker

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Questions are being raised over the future of the Stormont Assembly after unionists once again blocked the installation of an Assembly Speaker and a First Minister.

After losing last month’s election to Sinn Fein, the DUP has refused to allow the Assembly to meet or an Executive to be formed. The boycott is supposedly in protest against the Irish Protocol of Brexit.

Michelle O’Neill, who has been prevented from taking up the office of First Minister told the Assembly chamber this week that people in the north of Ireland want “action, not protest”.

“They want the parties and every single MLA elected to this democratic institution to get their sleeves rolled up and to get down to business,” she said.

A number of measures to alleviate the cost of living crisis are in limbo due to the absence of a Six County administration.

Ms O’Neill noted that local businesses continue to make announcements which show the Protocol is benefiting firms with new orders and new jobs.

“All parties, but also the British government should respect the democratic outcome and now fully support the application of the Good Friday Agreement through power sharing and equality,” she said.

“The DUP stand-off is with the public, not the European Union.

“The stand-off is with those people crippled in pain waiting for treatment and surgery on the NHS and who voted for us to tackle the waiting lists by investing an extra £1 billion in health.

“We need an Executive in place to reduce waiting lists, hire more doctors and nurses and fund vital mental health and cancer services today.”

But the DUP Assembly leader Paul Givan described the recall of the Assembly for the vote as a “stunt” and “another attempt at majority rule”.

Given accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy over a previous Stormont stand-off over the RHI corruption scandal. Unheeded calls for the resignation of then First Minister Arlene Foster were partly the cause of the Assembly not meeting from January 2017 to January 2020.

The north of Ireland is once again being governed by Direct Rule from Westminster, but a popular and more sustainable alternative, allowed for under the Good Friday Agreement, could be a form of joint authority from Dublin and London.

Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP pointed out that the majority of Assembly members who support the Protocol had increased substantially following last month’s election. He said that the DUP were “holding the people of Northern Ireland to hostage” because of an international treaty signed between the UK and the European Union.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said there would be further attempts to encourage a change of heart and restore Stormont.

“We will come back again, we will do this again because I am not giving up, we believe in making this institution work and we still, at this point, call on the DUP to join with all the other parties that actually want to make politics work,” she said.

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