Stormont return: DUP insists there’s ‘still no deal’ after NI Secretary welcomed ‘significant progress’

Chris Heaton-Harris extended the deadline until February 8

SDLP to submit amendment to try and force pay resolution

‘Nothing has changed,’ says TUV leader Jim Allister

Sinn Féin urge DUP to ‘work with us’

Earlier on Tuesday, Chris Heaton-Harris announced the new deadline would be fixed for February 8.

It is understood the Government will introduce a short bill at Westminster on Wednesday to set the new date after the last one lapsed on January 18.

The DUP said the move was recognition that no deal has yet been reached.

“The introduction of this Bill by the Secretary of State is recognition that, whilst significant progress has been made, to date an agreement has not been reached,” said a party spokesperson.

“We will continue to engage with the Government as we seek to successfully finalise all the remaining outstanding issues between us.

“We are working hard to that end.

“The Government knows our view that it is only when we have resolved the remaining outstanding issues that we will be able to bring about the necessary conditions for the return of devolved Government.”

Under legislation governing the formation of a devolved administration in Belfast, the Government assumes a legal duty to call a snap assembly election once a deadline for forming a ministerial executive is passed.

However, in the face of a series of missed deadlines in the current power-sharing impasse, the Government has repeatedly opted to pass fresh legislation to set new deadlines, rather than opting for an election.

NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said the latest intervention should be “sufficient” to restore devolution.

“Tomorrow (Wednesday) I will be introducing the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to allow for the reformation of Stormont,” he said.

“The Bill only has a single clause: to extend the period of time Stormont can legitimately come back until the 8th February.

“I am committed to restoring devolution and significant progress has been made towards that objective. I believe that this Bill, with the constrained timescales, will be sufficient.”

The SDLP however have announced their intention to amend the legislation in an attempt to reform the process for appointing an Assembly Speaker.

Leader Colum Eastwood also said the party’s MPs – Mr Eastwood and Claire Hanna – would submit an amendment obligating Chris Heaton-Harris to deliver the public sector pay award in the absence of the Executive.

“We will again bring forward a proposal to reform the process of electing a Speaker of the Assembly to remove the one-party veto that has overridden the clear will of a majority of MLAs,” said Mr Eastwood.

“We will also seek to place a legal obligation on the Secretary of State to deliver the resource for a pay award for public sector workers in line with the commitment made by the Northern Ireland Office and the British Treasury to parties before Christmas.

“The people keeping our public services going should not be punished for a failure of political leadership. The SDLP told striking workers last week we would do everything we can to help them – we intend to keep that promise.

“The psychodrama of the last few days, and the last few years, has helped no one. It is now time for political leaders to get back to work and for the DUP to make a deal.”

TUV Leader Jim Allister said the extension amounted to “another attempt to bounce Unionists into submission to the pernicious Protocol”.

“Nothing has changed so it requires and deserves the same response: Protocol or Stormont, not both,” he added.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill – who would hold the position of First Minister should Stormont return – said the public had “had enough of the DUP’s inaction”.

“They (people) need mature and positive leadership focused on delivering for them,” she said.

“My message to the DUP is to work with us, get round the Executive table and make a difference to people’s lives.

“Thousands of public sector workers educating our children, caring for patients in our hospitals and running our transport services are once again being forced to take industrial action for the pay rises being denied to them.

“It is time for action. Workers and their families cannot be left in the lurch any longer. The DUP leader should do the right thing and restore the democratic institutions.”

The DUP has been blocking devolved government since February 2022 over post-Brexit trade rules for NI.

It is facing pressure to say if it will back a deal to end the 23-month impasse at Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is set to again bring fresh legislation this week, albeit with a relatively short extension this time.

The move suggests the Government remains hopeful a settlement can be reached within the next two weeks to enable power-sharing to return to Northern Ireland.

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