Why is the DUP blocking the election of a speaker in Stormont? 4 months ago

Why is the DUP blocking the election of a speaker in Stormont?

Trouble is afoot.

The newly-elected Stormont Assembly will meet for the first time on Friday morning (13 May) as the 90 new members file in to sign the register.

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Members will also indicate if they are designating themselves as Nationalist, Unionist or Other before the first order of business, electing a speaker and two delegates will get underway.

However, this is where the first roadblock is expected with the Democratic Unionist Party indicating it will not support the appointments.

In a statement to Belfast's daily Unionist newspaper the News Letter, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the party will not support the appointment of a speaker as part of its campaign against the Northern Ireland protocol.

Why is this significant?

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By the DUP refusing to support the appointments, it means that the Assembly cannot function properly or hold debates and meetings.

While current ministers can continue to oversee their departments in a caretaker capacity, they will do so without being part of an executive and thus limiting their powers.

Any election of a speaker in Stormont requires cross-community support, meaning that majority of unionists and the majority of nationalist members of the Assembly must approve the speaker.

The DUP (25 seats) is the second largest party in the Assembly after Sinn Féin (27), and is the largest unionist party in Stormont by far, meaning that unless the DUP votes for a speaker, none can be elected.

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Why is the DUP not supporting a speaker?

In his statement to the News Letter, Donaldson outlined that he cannot support the election of a speaker due to the Northern Ireland protocol.

"Unionist concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol are not merely some political squabble which is impacting upon Stormont," Donaldson said.

"The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years," he added.

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"The economic and political damage to Northern Ireland we see now is merely the tip of the iceberg and will only increase significantly as time moves on."

The DUP's move to block an assembly could potentially strengthen the posturing of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his bid to rid the UK of the Northern Ireland Protocol, one of the remnants of Brexit.

Johnson has hinted in recent weeks that he could override elements of the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, a deal which he himself negotiated and agreed.

Both the UK government and the DUP are aligned on the issue and if talks occur between the UK and the EU, Johnson will likely point to the lack of a fully functioning executive in Northern Ireland as a way to bolster his position.

What does Sinn Fein say?

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Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said it was "shameful" that there would be no executive or assembly.

"Today is the day we should be forming an executive to put money in peoples pockets and to start to fix our health service," she wrote in a tweet.

"The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up."

Despite Sinn Féin winning a majority for the first time, it now looks very unlikely that O'Neill will be elected as First Minister.

However, while Sinn Féin has called out the DUP's decision and will likely do so frequently over the coming months, the DUP will likely point to the fact that Sinn Féin did something comparable between 2017 and 2020 in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

While not relating to Brexit in any way, Sinn Féin said at the time that it would not return to a power-sharing arrangement with the DUP without significant changes in the DUP's approach, meaning that Northern Ireland was without a functioning executive until an agreement was finally reached in 2020.