Northern Ireland news

Doug Beattie: No party should be allowed to block election of assembly speaker

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie. Picture by Mal McCann

THE British government should introduce legislation to prevent any party blocking the election of an assembly speaker, the leader of the Ulster Unionists has said.

A speaker has still not been elected more than a fortnight after the election because the move is being blocked by the DUP.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the block was part of a protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol which has effectively created a customs border between the north and Britain.

UUP leader Doug Beattie said reforms to remove a veto should be introduced "for the good of the people".

"People here in Northern Ireland are suffering because of this cost of living crisis," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"That's not a strapline, that's a lived experience. We need to do something about it. There are things we could do about it if we had a speaker and the assembly was up and running."

He said a fuel poverty taskforce to address soaring energy costs could be set up if a speaker was in place.

"Those who want to participate in government, to a limited degree, could do so," he said.

"I certainly want to participate in government. I want to be working. I want to be up at Stormont. I want to be doing something that helps the people of Northern Ireland. If we could do something, even on a limited basis, then I think that would be a positive."

Mr Beattie said a change in the law would mean that no party would have a veto over Stormont.

"It's not just the DUP," he said.

"For three years Sinn Féin did exactly the same thing."

DUP east Derry MP Gregory Campbell disagreed.

"After a bad election, Doug Beattie now seems to want to keep on digging. There has been more potential progress in resolving the protocol problem in the two weeks since the unionist people voted the way they did, than in the two years since it was implemented. Rather than help resolve matters at the point where we are hopefully beginning to see some realism, he risks creating further problems," Mr Campbell said.

"Earlier this week we met the NIO and I pointed out that it would not be in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland if the government were to undertake actions that pushed unionism further away. Doug Beattie's suggestion would do exactly that."

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