THE DUP has been accused of lacking the will to share power after it effectively blocked a deal to elect the assembly’s first nationalist speaker.
The post was promised to Sinn Féin as long ago as 2007 but the DUP has refused to honour the agreement, pointing to an apparent U-turn by republicans on welfare re-form.
The need to elect a new speaker arose after last week’s resignation of Foyle MLA William Hay, due to ill-health.
In 2011, following the last assembly election, the DUP and Sinn Féin made their support for the deal public, with Mitchel McLaughlin widely expected to succeed Mr Hay.
However, it is understood that many DUP MLAs are opposed to the idea of Mr McLaughlin — or any Sinn Féin MLA — assuming the speaker’s role.
In yesterday’s vote, which also saw deputy speakers John Dallat of the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs nominated by their respective parties, DUP members abstained, meaning the votes failed to achieve the necessary cross-community support.
Peter Robinson has called for the speaker’s appointment to be dealt with at the all-party talks which begin later this week.
Until a successor for Mr Hay is elected, Mr McLaughlin will act as as principal deputy speaker, along with deputies Mr Dallat and Mr Beggs.
Sinn Féin MLA Caitriona Ruane blamed the DUP for the failure to elect Mr Hay’s successor.
“The refusal today to honour that deal by refusing to back Mitchel McLaughlin raises serious questions about DUP sincerity in any negotiations process,” she said.
Ms Ruane said Sinn Féin had refused to endorse the alternative candidates because it would have meant the party accepting “DUP bad faith”.
“These institutions were set up on the premise of power sharing and the latest decision by the DUP to pull out of this deal highlights that they are still not up to the task of sharing power,” she said.
Alliance leader David Ford criticised the DUP’s failure to endorse Mr McLaughlin’s election and said the party was seeking to “politicise” the speaker’s office.
“This is not the first time that Peter Robinson has broken his word, nor will it be the last, but now the assembly will be left in limbo as we continue without a speaker,” he said.
“The DUP should have honoured the deal that they made in 2011.”
Ulster Unionist Robin Swann said the DUP’s failure to honour the agreement was evidence of the “poisonous Sinn Féin-DUP coalition”.
The SDLP, however, blamed Sinn Féin for the failure to elect the assembly’s first nationalist speaker after the former’s nomination of Mr Dallat. Leader Alasdair McDonnell said Sinn Féin had placed “party politics before principle”.
“The culture of cosy deals and back room politics has and continues to fail everyone who voted for this assembly,” the South Belfast MP and MLA said.
“The fact that Sinn Féin would rather see no speaker rather than someone from the nationalist community who is not of their choosing is unbelievable.”
DUP MLA Arlene Foster said her party would not stand by while Sinn Féin broke agreements.
“Every action or inaction will have an opposite reaction or inaction,” she said.
* ASSEMBLY: The DUP yesterday abstained from backing Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, left, to succeed DUP MLA William Hay, right, in the speaker’s role following the latter’s resignation on health grounds
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