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DUP accused of ‘holding the public to ransom’ after blocking Stormont executive from forming

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill blast's unionist's move as ‘disgraceful’

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed to have sent a “clear message” to the EU and the British government today when his party blocked the election of a new speaker at the Stormont Assembly.

The new 90 MLAs met for the first time in the Stormont chamber today after last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly election saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party for the first time.

As part of its protest against the Northern Ireland protocol, the DUP refused to nominate any of its members for the deputy first minister position, preventing a new executive from forming.

Unionists oppose the post-Brexit treaty because of the economic barriers it creates between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill described the DUP move as disgraceful and Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was “incredibly frustrating.”

Speaking shortly before the plenary session began, Sir Jeffrey said: “I am here with my assembly team today for the first sitting of the assembly.

“My members will be signing the roll and taking their seats for the first time.

“As I have made clear this morning we have taken the decision not at this stage to support the election of a speaker.

“I believe that we need to send a very clear message to the European Union and to our government that we are serious about getting this protocol sorted out.

“Because of the harm it is doing, undermining political stability, damaging the agreements that have formed the basis of political progress made in Northern Ireland, to our economy, contributing to the cost-of-living crisis, this matter needs to be dealt with.

“While others sit on their hands we are not prepared to do that.

“We need decisive action taken by the government.”

Ms O’Neill accused the DUP of “disgracefully holding the public to ransom for their Brexit mess.”

“Today is the day we should be forming an executive to put money in people’s pockets and to start to fix our health service,” she said.

“The DUP have confirmed they will punish the public and not turn up."

• Ms O’Neill announced this afternoon that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit Northern Ireland on Monday.

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