N.Ireland’s DUP says it will block the province’s new legislature

Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) – Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party on Friday said it would block the election of a speaker for the Northern Ireland Assembly, in a move that would shut down the British-run province’s newly elected legislature.

In a statement to the Northern Irish newspaper News Express, the party leader, Geoffrey Donaldson, said he would not support a spokesman or nominate minister until the UK revises the Northern Ireland protocol governing post-Brexit trade in the region .

The DUP lost its position as the largest party in the region to Irish nationalist Sinn Fein last week, which has said it will block the formation of an executive.

“Today, the Democratic Unionist Party will not support the election of a speaker in parliament,” he said in a statement.

Major Irish nationalists and British unionists in Northern Ireland were obliged to share power under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, which largely ended 30 years of sectarian bloodshed in the region.

Power-sharing between blocs requires both parties to agree on a speaker before the election of a cross-community government. Without the speakers, the component would not function fully.

Donaldson said unionists’ concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol were more than a political spat, which he said “directly challenges the fundamental principles of every agreement that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years”.

When Britain left the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government agreed to a deal that effectively kept Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market and customs union, given its open borders with EU member Ireland.

This created a customs border between the rest of the UK and the province at sea, which pro-British communities in Northern Ireland say eroded their standing in the UK. Britain now says the required bureaucracy will not be tolerated.

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said the DUP, which backed Britain’s exit from the European Union, was punishing the public for not showing up.

“They shamefully let the public hold the public for ransom for their Brexit mess,” she tweeted.

“Today is the day we should form an executive, put money in people’s pockets, and start fixing our health care.”

(Reporting by Graham Fahy; Editing by John Stonestreet and Toby Chopra)

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