Tuesday 20 March 2018

No business on agenda in Assembly stalemate 'fiasco'

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire

Suzanne Breen

Newly-elected MLAs will gather today for the first meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly - but the current political stalemate means there is no business on the agenda.

The 90 representatives will register at 4pm by signing the roll of membership, but then will disperse as the lack of agreement between the parties prevents even the election of a speaker.

TUV leader Jim Allister branded the situation "a fiasco" and symbolic of Stormont's failings.

He claimed that by not electing a speaker immediately after MLAs registered, the Assembly was "bending its own rules".

Talks to save power sharing will continue between the parties today. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on everyone to redouble their efforts, but Ulster Unionist chief negotiator Tom Elliott said he saw little sign a deal could be reached within the next three weeks.

British Secretary of State James Brokenshire has cancelled his St Patrick's Day trip to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump in order to concentrate on the talks.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

It is understood that all the party leaders, except Gerry Adams, have also opted to stay in Northern Ireland this week.

Mr Eastwood said: "We are focused on reaching a deal and establishing a government fit for the challenges facing us. Our crumbling health service and Brexit require urgent attention.

"Everyone at the talks' table needs determination and positivity to get the job done."

The SDLP leader said it was depressing that the political stalemate meant that the Assembly would be adjourned after members registered.

"It's a sign of the times. We have three weeks to get things up and running and let's hope that's all it takes," he added.

Mr Allister claimed that by not electing a speaker today, Stormont was once again failing. "Standing order four states once the registration of MLAs is over, the Assembly shall proceed to elect a speaker," he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister

The speaker in the last Assembly, the DUP's Robin Newton who ended his term in controversy, is expected to remain in post until the end of the month.

Turning to the talks, Mr Allister claimed the DUP was "showing every sign that it is willing to fill Sinn Féin's boots with endless concessions".

He said: "Gerry Adams is setting the bar as high as he can with his demand list. I can't see the Executive returning unless the DUP grants Sinn Féin maximum concessions and that would be utter folly.

"On Brexit alone, Mr Adams is making undeliverable demands. He is asking for things that can't be done if Brexit is to mean Brexit."

Mr Adams yesterday repeated his call for Northern Ireland to be granted special designated status within the EU. "This is the only logical way to avoid a hard economic Border, job losses, and business closures," he said. "If the British government succeeds, it will drive this part of Ireland out of the EU. This is not acceptable."

Irish Independent

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