DUP leader says removal of cross-community consensus at Stormont a ‘non-starter’

Stormont reform that removes the need for cross-community consensus on key decisions is a “non-starter”, the DUP leader has said.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said changing the mindsets of people was more important than changing the rules of powersharing when it came to securing political stability in Northern Ireland.

His comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged consideration of reform ahead of the next Assembly election.

Deputy Irish premier, Tanaiste Micheal Martin, has also articulated the case for changing the rules to ensure no one party can collapse the devolved institutions in Belfast.

The powersharing structures incorporate a system based on mutual veto powers, enabling blocs of unionist and nationalist MLAs to stop moves that otherwise command majority support and, in extreme circumstances, pull down the institutions and prevent them operating.

The DUP exercised its veto to blockade Stormont for two years in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The ending of that boycott enabled devolution to return last month.

In 2017, Sinn Fein collapsed the ministerial executive amid a furore about a botched green energy scheme.

It was down for three years.

Sinn Fein has said it is up for finding agreement with other parties to reform the structures.

It has said that should be done through the existing Assembly and Executive Review Committee at Stormont.

Sir Jeffrey was asked about the issue as he spoke to reporters at a business event in Washington DC on Thursday.

He highlighted that Mr Varadkar had acknowledged the matter did not involve the Irish government and related to the internal governance of Northern Ireland.

“We will of course talk with other parties in due course,” Sir Jeffrey said.

“But our focus right now in terms of reform is on our health service, delivering for people on waiting lists, it’s on reform of our education system, (Education Minister) Paul Givan leading the way in ensuring that we have the best education system for our young people.

“It’s about growing our economy. It’s about making Northern Ireland work. That’s what we’re focused on.

“The time will come when we can discuss how we can make the institutions more effective.

“But let me be absolutely clear, and this is the bottom line for us, cross-community consensus is the only way that Stormont can work effectively.

“I said that throughout the last two years, I repeat that now. And the notion that we’re going to interfere with or remove the need for cross-community consensus is simply a non-starter.”

The DUP leader added: “It is about making Northern Ireland work and that includes our political institutions.

“You know, changing the rules won’t deliver that, what will deliver it is changing the mindsets, the way that people think, that’s what I’m in the business of doing, is about winning converts for the Union, about Northern Ireland being the best place for every one of our citizens to live, work, raise their families.

“That’s my focus.”