Northern Ireland news


SDLP rejects suggestions it could designate as 'other' to break Stormont deadlock

SDLP Colum Eastwood with his MLA team at Parliament Buildings in Belfast on Monday. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

THE SDLP last night delivered a strong rebuttal to suggestions it could designate as 'other' in the assembly to break the deadlock created by the DUP's refusal to nominate a deputy first minister.

It came as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson signalled that his party could frustrate the return of the assembly by refusing to support the election of a speaker tomorrow.

The move would put the assembly on hold while leaving existing ministers in place in a 'zombie' executive.

There was speculation yesterday that if the Ulster Unionists or SDLP along with independent Claire Sugden chose to redesignate as 'other' then together with Alliance and People Before Profit, the bloc would outnumber 'unionists' – enabling it to nominate a deputy first minister.

The audacious move, which would need to be agreed by noon tomorrow ahead of new MLAs signing the register, would leave the DUP and TUV as the smallest of the three designations.

A senior Alliance source told The Irish News that it could happen if "the SDLP designated as 'Social Democratic and Labour' rather than nationalist and/or the UUP designated as 'Union of People' rather than unionist".

"I doubt they will, but it's an interesting way to get things moving and doesn't require them to designate as anything other than what they stood for in election," the source said.

"I suspect despite claims of being cross-community and inclusive, neither would be up for it, though it would absolutely force a rethink on designations and voting mechanisms which they've always claimed to want as well."

But the SDLP was last night clear that it would not countenance the idea.

"The election result could not be clearer – Sinn Féin are entitled to nominate Michelle O’Neill as first minister and the DUP should urgently nominate a deputy first minister," a spokesperson said.

"The Alliance Party may want to manufacture a stitch up to get themselves a top job but the SDLP will not be part of any effort to undermine the election result or to undermine power sharing – we are a social democratic, Irish nationalist political movement and we will designate in line with our beliefs."

The DUP's opponents yesterday criticised Sir Jeffrey, who on Tuesday said he was remaining at Westminster until issues around the protocol were "resolved", after he indicated that he may block the restoration of the assembly.

Sinn Féin first minister-elect Michelle O'Neill accused the DUP leader of "holding society to ransom".

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has told the European Union there is no need for "drama" as he doubled down on hints he could override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed however that "no-one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement".

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