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Saturday 30 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Liam McBurney/PA MLAs will return to Stormont on Thursday for a recalled sitting of the Assembly
# Northern Ireland
Jeffrey Donaldson says Irish government 'deluded' to think joint-authority with London is possible
The DUP is set to block an attempt to elect a new Stormont speaker.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 27th 2022, 1:00 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said there’s “still time” to avoid fresh elections in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to reporters in Trim, Meath today, he appealed to the DUP to make a return to Stormont. 

When asked about the mechanism that might require joint authority of Northern Ireland by Britain and Ireland, he said Ireland’s role in the governing of Northern Ireland is a consultative role on non-devolved matters.

When there is no devolution then that broadens what non-devolved matters means and encompasses in the event of no Stormont breakthrough by tomorrow, he said.

He said there will be meaningful engagement” in the context of what the Good Friday Agreement framework sets out.

However, he called for the restoration of the Assembly “as quickly as possible”, adding that he believes people in Northern Ireland are losing patience with abstentionism and lack of action on cost of living crisis.  

MLAs will return to Stormont in a last-gasp bid to restore the Northern Ireland executive before fresh Assembly elections are called.

The sitting will see an attempt to elect a new speaker – a prerequisite before an executive can be appointed – but that bid is set to fail as the DUP will use its veto to block it.

The special sitting at midday comes just hours ahead of a deadline for calling another election.

A six-month legislative time frame to form an administration expires just after midnight early on Friday.

If no ministerial executive is in place by then, the UK Government assumes a legal responsibility to call another election.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said that unionists will not accept a joint authority arrangement instead of direct rule from London in the absence of the Stormont Assembly.

“I think the Irish government needs to hear this loud and clear, unionists will never accept joint authority, if joint authority is imposed upon us, the Good Friday Agreement is dishonoured completely and is not therefore a basis for us moving forward,” he said.

“If the Irish government thinks that by threatening me or my party with joint authority that that will help us get to a solution quickly, that it will move us forward on the basis of mutual respect and understanding then I’m afraid the Irish government is deluded.

“Unionists will not accept joint authority. Joint authority would be an abandonment of the Good Friday Agreement and if that’s what the Irish government want to do, then let them be honest and say.”

Honouring the mandate

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was critical of the DUP for blocking the return of both the Assembly and Executive, saying that the public expect political parties to honour their mandates.

“It’s exactly as the Taoiseach says, is that the DUP and all other parties ought to honour their mandate.

“You get elected by people, people come out on Election Day and put a number or an ‘X’ beside your name because they want you to be a government, they want you to make decisions.

“And I would like to hear the voice of the DUP in Northern Ireland government but that’s not possible at the moment”

He added that Brexit would have been managed “much better” had the Assembly and Executive been up and running.

Varadkar also said that there could not be a return to previous direct rule arrangements, saying it “wouldn’t be acceptable” as “things have moved on so much in Northern Ireland”. 

SDLP MP Claire Hanna described it as “the worst possible way to resolve issues in Northern Ireland”, saying that the UK government has placed the region on a “cliff edge [by] sending people back to the trenches”.

“More worrying,  I think it just increases the cynicism of people here, their lack of belief in normal processes,” she told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, adding that a General Election is inevitable. 

“They had their say in May and that hasn’t been respected. And there’s absolutely no indication that there’ll be a particular change of heart or that there’s a plan B when we come back at the end of December with essentially the same cast and the same challenges,”she said, referring to any outcome of a likely General Election. 

The South Belfast representative criticised Secretary of State Chris Heaten-Harris, who was reappointed to the role by new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Hanna said he is “new in the job with a limited grasp for Northern Ireland” and has been “distracted” by turmoil in the Tory Party in Britain. 

Discussions have also taken place between Sunak and Taoiseach Micheál Martin on developments in the north.

Yesterday evening Sunak told Martin he prefers a “negotiated outcome” to issues caused by the Protocol.

In their first conversation since the Tory MP became the country’s leader, both agreed on the importance of EU-UK engagement to find agreed solutions to the issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol

Martin said they discussed the need to find “agreed solutions” on the protocol. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has repeatedly warned that he will call a Stormont poll if Friday’s deadline passes without a devolved executive being formed.

Heaton-Harris met with Northern Ireland political party leaders on Wednesday and reiterated the importance of restoring the executive.

He said: “Since I have become Secretary of State, I have consistently been clear that if the Executive is not formed by October 28, I will call an election.

“Time is running out, and people in Northern Ireland deserve locally elected decision-makers and an executive who can respond to the issues facing people, families and communities across Northern Ireland during this challenging time.

“We are clear that people deserve an accountable devolved government and that was my message to party leaders.”

The DUP has refused to engage with the devolved institutions in Belfast in the wake of May’s Assembly election, meaning it has not been possible to form an executive.

The party’s boycott is part of a campaign of opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol and the DUP says it will not return to powersharing until decisive action is taken to remove the protocol’s economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

During the Stormont recall, MLAs are set to debate a motion, tabled by Sinn Fein in consultation with the Alliance Party, that will focus on the cost-of-living crisis, the instability at Westminster and the absence of devolved government at Stormont.

The first failed attempt to elect a new speaker came in May following the election.

The Assembly has been recalled on two further occasions since, most recently in August.

While Northern Ireland has no first or deputy first ministers, other ministers who served in the previous mandate have remained in post following May’s election, albeit they have been significantly constrained in the decisions they can take.

If Friday’s deadline passes without a full executive having been established, those remaining ministers will cease to hold office.

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally and PA

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