Fresh Stormont elections or governments must find an alternative – Murphy

Fresh Stormont elections or governments must find an alternative – Murphy

Northern Ireland should face fresh Assembly elections or the UK and Irish governments will have to come up with an alternative if the DUP does not return to Stormont, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has said.

As the region approaches two years without devolved government, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted his party remains in talks with London over unionist concerns around post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The DUP has insisted it will not go back into power-sharing government until it secures legislative assurances from the Government on Northern Ireland’s trading position within the UK.

In December, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris indicated the government’s talks with the DUP had concluded, but on Monday Sir Jeffrey said more progress is needed.

Mr Heaton-Harris is obliged by current legislation to call a fresh election if Stormont has not reformed by January 18.

The DUP leader said he hoped for an update in the coming days over what progress has been made on the trade border impasse.

Stormont Assembly
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says that more progress is needed (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey said his party “remain focused on getting a fair and balanced outcome”.

“Our goal throughout this process has been to restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market as set out in our manifesto,” he said.

However Mr Murphy slammed an “endless charade” and pressed Sir Jeffrey to make a decision on re-entering the Stormont Assembly.

“This is a charade at this stage, it’s been facilitated for far too long by the British Government who eventually said pre-Christmas that this is over,” he told reporters in the Great Hall at Stormont on Monday afternoon.

“What we need to do is get to the point of decision, and that’s what Jeffrey Donaldson and his party need to do, come back and tell us, are they going to join with the rest of us in doing power sharing, or are they not,” he said.

“And if they’re not, then the two governments have a decision to take in terms of where we go after that.”

He added: “If the DUP are going to decide that they can’t and won’t do powersharing, then there is either an election called on January 18 or the two governments have to get their heads together and come up with an alternative.

“They have responsibility to the Good Friday Agreement to guarantee that the continued operation of the elements of the Good Friday Agreement, and they’ve responsibility for actually jointly crafting something going forward.

“Every sector in society that we meet would want this Executive to be back. We want to be back in the Executive working with the other parties, including the DUP, to try and tackle some of the big issues but if they’re going to conclude they can’t and won’t do powersharing then we have to move on to a new area.”

Stormont Assembly
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said in December that talks with the DUP over the trade border impasse had concluded (Liam McBurney/PA)

Talks between Mr Heaton-Harris and the main Stormont parties over a £3.3 billion financial package to accompany the return of devolution broke up at Hillsborough Castle in December without any agreement to restore the Assembly and Executive.

The package would include money to make an outstanding pay award to public sector workers.

With their pay demands still unmet, unions are planning a major strike across Northern Ireland on January 18.

Sir Jeffrey said in a statement on Monday afternoon that progress is being made with the Government, but more work needs to be done.

“Northern Ireland should never have been subjected to arrangements that not one unionist MLA supported,” he said.

“For as long as I have been involved in Northern Ireland talks processes, the lesson at every juncture has been that lasting progress is only achieved when the outcome could be supported by unionists as well as nationalists.”

Sir Jeffrey continued: “The Northern Ireland that this party is trying to build is one where we all can feel at home whether we are British, Irish, Northern Irish or somewhere in-between.

“The arrangements foisted on unionists by the NI Protocol jeopardised all of this. They were hugely destabilising and set Northern Ireland back rather than moving us forward. The balance must be restored.

“Whilst we are making progress with the Government, there remains more work to be done.

“We have been given a task by the electorate and we are going to finish the job.”