1. ITV Report

NI Assembly recall branded ‘cynical political stunt’

The NI Assembly collapsed more than 1,000 days ago. Credit: Presseye

Monday’s recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly, for the first time in more than 1,000 days, has been dismissed as a “cynical political stunt” by Alliance leader Naomi Long.

The return to Stormont of some MLAs is being seen as a last-ditch effort to block reform of Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws.

Thirty-one MLAs – 27 DUP, three UUP, and TUV leader Jim Allister - have signed a petition to recall the Assembly, after Baroness Nuala O’Loan called for the Secretary of State to intervene.

“This is no political stunt,” Baroness O’Loan insisted.

“Tens of thousands of other people have marched, protested and demanded that the Assembly return.

“We need the Assembly to deal with what will happen to us during Brexit, to take the decisions necessary to allow our country to function again, to make our health, education and other services function properly again and most of all to stop this most radical abortion law being imposed on Northern Ireland.”

Legislation has been passed by Westminster to change Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, unless power-sharing is restored by Monday 21 October.

Our MLAs will return to the chamber without pre-condition.

We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly.

– Arlene Foster, DUP leader

However, an Executive can only be formed once the DUP and Sinn Féin agree to enter a coalition.

Sinn Féin have already said they will not attend, dismissing the recall as a “publicity stunt”.

On Sunday, Mrs Long confirmed that her party’s MLAs will not participate.

“It is a cynical political stunt, which has no prospect of leading to the formation of an Executive,” the Alliance leader said.

“But it will increase acrimony between parties and bring the chamber further into disrepute, making an actual restoration more difficult.”

Mrs Long added: “The intention of this recall is not to block abortion law and equal marriage, but to create the illusion the DUP are trying to do so.

“Regardless of our individual views on abortion, Alliance believes it is not appropriate to treat a serious issue with profound consequences in such a cynical matter and we want nothing to do with such a charade.”

Raising the expectations of the wider community that a sustainable Assembly can be formed without any intensive negotiations, compromise from the two largest parties, or reform of the institutions to make them fit for purpose, is fundamentally dishonest.

We will not be party to such a lie.

– Naomi Long, Alliance Party leader

Mrs Long further stated: “Alliance’s MLAs will be in Parliament Buildings on Monday, as they have been every week since the collapse of the institutions.

“Not only are we available for talks, but we demand they start immediately.

“If those who signed this petition feel so strongly about the formation of an Executive and wish to take decisions, they must take responsibility for reaching a deal to deliver that.”

In response, DUP Assembly Chief Whip Gordon Lyons criticised the Alliance Party’s stance.

He added: “DUP MLAs will enter the chamber to engage in a respectful debate on a hugely sensitive issue.

“We also go in fully prepared to nominate Ministers, form an Executive and get on with the job we were elected to do.

“Every MLA has the opportunity and the choice to participate in that process or they can stand behind preconditions and refuse to take part.”