Northern Ireland news

Former ministers join DUP backbench rebellion but fail to halt fast-tracked legislation

Former ministers Michelle McIlveen and Mervyn Storey pictured with Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

TWO former DUP ministers were among a dozen of the party's MLAs who yesterday failed to vote for controversial legislation giving individual executive ministers more power.

But the unprecedented rebellion by up to half the DUP's Stormont representatives failed to halt the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill, which will become law once it gets royal ascent.

Misgivings about the legislation have been raised by Richard Bullick, a former senior DUP special adviser, who claimed it ran contrary to measures the the party had secured in the St Andrews Agreement which prevented ministers making 'solo runs'.

Mr Bullick, who now works for Belfast-based public affairs company MCE, described the bill on Twitter as a "policy U-turn" that had the "potential to destroy the party’s political credibility".

The Ulster Unionists had sought to delay the bill's fast-tracked passage on Monday but yesterday it was voted through the assembly by 58 votes to 13.

However, 11 DUP MLAs voted in both lobbies, effectively abstaining, while former speaker Robin Newton and East Derry MLA Maurice Bradley refused to allow their votes to be cast by proxy. South Down MLA Jim Wells, who had the DUP whip withdrawn in 2018, voted against the legislation, meaning half the party's 28 MLAs opposed the bill.

Among those who rebelled and refused to take the whip were former Stormont ministers Mervyn Storey and Michelle McIlveen, highlighting a split between the party's back and front benches.

There was no comment on the vote's outcome from DUP headquarters last night.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, whose party is alone in the executive in opposing the bill's accelerated passage, said it was "poor and badly thought out legislation" that "could haunt us for many years to come".

He said junior ministers speaking on behalf of the bill in the absence of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill had conceded during yesterday's debate that no changes in planning powers, which this bill is designed to enhance, can be enacted until Stormont's revised ministerial code is brought before the Assembly in either the autumn or later.

"(It) shows that not only was there ample time to give this bill proper consideration, but also that the flaws highlighted in this process re-emphasise that no lessons have been learnt since RHI," Mr Aiken said.

 

“While we did not manage to defeat the bill, the fact that some DUP MLAs chose to abstain in person shows the considerable disquiet that there is across much of the assembly in this process."

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the executive had been "given the green light to strip back accountability".

"We are clear – this is an attack on accountability and the ramifications could be very damaging," the West Belfast representative said.

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