Northern Ireland’s power struggles as DUP refuses to back speaker

Northern Ireland’s power struggles as DUP refuses to back speaker

After last week's elections, the Democratic Unionist party decided not to back the election of a new speaker for the Northern Ireland assembly.

The move that leaves the assembly unable to function is an escalation after the party previously indicated it would not nominate for the position of deputy first minister because of its hostility to post-Brexit trading arrangements.

On Friday, ninety newly elected members of the legislative assembly MLAs gathered in Stormont, outside Belfast, for what was meant to be the first day of business since the election.

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the main nationalist and unionist parties are obliged to share power. Power sharing between the blocs requires both sides to agree on a speaker before they can elect a cross-community government.

After Sinn F emerged as the largest party in the election for the first time, it meant that the new first minister would be Stormont's leader Michelle O Neill.

The party has said it will not nominate Ministers to form a new executive until its concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol which sets out post-Brexit trading arrangements for the country are resolved.

The treaty is opposed by the unionists because of the economic barriers it creates between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The protocol is a direct challenge to the principles that have underpinned every agreement reached in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years, according to the leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. It erodes the very foundations that devolution has been built upon. What happened to Stormont today?

The Alliance party, which has become Stormont's third-largest party for the first time, has been under pressure from Sinn F in and from other parties, including the Nationalist or Unionist arrangement designed to facilitate cross-community voting on key decisions.

The Alliance leader Naomi Long said on Friday morning : It is hugely frustrating, as members of society, that we are not going to have a government formed, or even going to have an assembly where the basics can be done, like scrutinising ministers who are still in post. What does the DUP refusal to back a speaker mean for Northern Ireland s governance?

The assembly can't function without a speaker. Debates can't take place because bills can't be scrutinised. A new first minister, a new deputy first minister, and a new deputy prime minister can't be elected.

The situation is worse than anticipated after the DUP had signalled that it would stand in the way of the appointment of a first and deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive.

Northern Ireland is left with a caretaker government. Ministers are still technically in their positions and in charge of portfolios because of legislation introduced a few months ago, but they are very limited in what they can do and can't take cross-departmental decisions.

Experts warn that the situation can't continue and governance in Northern Ireland will eventually come to a halt as the focus shifts to what the UK government will do.

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has reiterated her threat to scrap parts of the protocol, which she described as the biggest obstacle to forming a new Northern Ireland executive.

Boris Johnson is expected to give a speech on the future of the protocol after exchanges between Truss and the European Commission Vice-President Maro ef ovi, a UK source described as tetchy.