Power-sharing strangled by DUP boycott

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There have been calls for political action against the DUP after they blocked a third attempt to elect a Speaker to the Belfast Assembly on Wednesday.

The Stormont Assembly had been recalled in an attempt to restart the power-sharing institutions in the Six Counties, which have been without a properly functioning government since May’s elections. No Assembly business can proceed until the DUP agrees to fill the post of Speaker, which it refuses to do while it pursues a harder Brexit with a reinforced border through the island of Ireland.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has described the DUP’s boycott as ‘unforgivable’ and accused the DUP of “punishing the public” by denying them a government to fund essential public services.

“The DUP are the only party that are blocking and preventing the Executive being formed, preventing the Executive meeting that would allow us to distribute money to workers and families,” Ms O’Neill told the chamber.

A controversial Brexit Bill, which aims to do away with the Irish Protocol, is making its way through Westminster and is due to come before the House of Lords in the autumn.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he is unable to allow his party’s return to Stormont, or even provide a timetable for when that might be possible, until a new British Prime Minister is elected and can provide them with assurances on the operation of the legislation.

According to a recent poll, more than two-thirds of people in the North agree that the party should be bypassed if it refuses to operate the power-sharing structures.

Aontú have called for the wages of all Assembly members to cut. They said the “political pantomime” and “dysfunction” had cost the people of the North a half a million pounds since the DUP began their action.

Political commentator Brian Feeney said he believes that Donaldson is now under the control of the European Research Group (ERG), the anti-EU wing of the Conservative Party to which he has been allied since 2019.

“There’s no point asking Donaldson will he go back to Stormont in September or wait until the anti-protocol bill goes through the Lords or until it receives royal assent. He doesn’t know. He has no strategy,” he said.

Hopes that a change at Downing Street could resolve the dispute have faded with indications that Liz Truss, who is also aligned with the ERG and the outgoing Boris Johnson, will become the next British Prime Minister.

Her opponent Rishi Sunak, who is of Punjabi extraction, has struggled to win the support of the Tory membership, arguably one of the most racist constituencies in western Europe.

The winner will be declared on 5 September, but there are few expectations in Ireland that the downward spiral in Belfast and London will be halted.

Human rights professor and nationalist activist Colin Harvey warned that the power-sharing experiment in the North of Ireland could be “coming to an end.... tragically encouraged by a Westminster government that has left the peace process building.”

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