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Explainer: Why are some Northern Irish MLAs returning to Stormont?

Other parties are calling the return to Stormont a ‘stunt’.

Some MLAs will be in Stormont today - but that does't mean power-sharing is back.
Some MLAs will be in Stormont today - but that does't mean power-sharing is back.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

POLITICIANS FROM ACROSS Northern Ireland will return to Stormont today for a sitting of the Assembly that some are labeling a “political stunt”.

Stormont collapsed nearly three years ago, forcing a stand-still in law-making in Northern Ireland as the UK government refused to introduce direct rule to the region. 

The sitting comes after a dramatic week in British politics, which saw the Democratic Unionist Party vote in the House of Commons to delay Brexit and defeat Boris Johnson. 

So why is the Assembly sitting today? 

To understand that, you’ve got to go all the way back to July, when British MPs voted to introduce same-sex marriage and abortion legislation to the North if power-sharing isn’t restored by 21 October. 

It was an unlikely prospect at the time, with talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP broken down and the British government pre-occupied with Brexit.

Fast-forward four months and things haven’t changed. The sitting today, proposed by Northern Ireland peer Baroness O’Loan, has received the support of anti-abortion campaign group Both Lives Matter as well as the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice. 

The Assembly can be recalled if 30 signatures are collected from MLAs. 

Last week all 90 MLAs were informed that the petition had reached the necessary number of signatures and that Stormont would sit on Monday. 

Does this mean power-sharing is restored?

No. The changes to abortion and same-sex marriage legislation will still be introduced. 

This is because the power-sharing executive has still not been formed, making the sitting of the Assembly largely symbolic. 

Why is the sitting controversial?

Parties, such as Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party, which support changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, have labelled the sitting as a “political stunt”. 

Yesterday, Alliance Party leader and MEP Naomi Long said that “intention of this recall is not to block abortion law and equal marriage, but to create the illusion the DUP are trying to do so”. 

“It has already caused genuine fear and anxiety for those who believe a meeting of the Assembly will have any effect, including LGBT couples who have arranged marriages for next year,” she said. 

 

Sinn Féin has rejected the sitting. “It’s purely about playing to the gallery,” Vice-President Michelle O’Neill has said. 

The SDLP, which describes itself as a pro-life party but allows representatives a conscience vote on the issue, has also criticised the plan.

“The DUP wants everyone to get back together on their terms in a cynical piece of cold choreography designed to get them off the hook for three years of irresponsible behaviour,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said earlier this month. 

However, the DUP has stood firm. Yesterday, the party’s chief whip Gordon Lyons said that the meeting was about getting Northern Ireland up-and-running again. 

“DUP MLAs will enter the chamber to engage in a respectful debate on a hugely sensitive issue,” he said.

“We also go in fully prepared to nominate Ministers, form an Executive and get on with the job we were elected to do. Every MLA has the opportunity and the choice to participate in that process or they can stand behind preconditions and refuse to take part,” he added. 

So who is attending?

Even this morning, it’s all a little unclear.  

The DUP MLAs are all expected to be there, while the fact that the outgoing Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann and two other UUP MLAs also signed the petition indicates that the party should be there. 

The Traditional Unionist Voice’s sole MLA is also expected to attend. 

The BBC has reported that at least one pro-life SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan will attend the sitting. Other SDLP MLAs may end up joining him. 

Sinn Féin will not attend and neither will the Alliance Party. 


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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