DUP criticised again as leader asks for parties to 'park' first minister debate

The DUP has faced more stinging criticism over its decision to collapse the Stormont Executive in protest at the Northern Ireland protocol.

Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd was given permission to make a statement on the cost of living crisis at the opening of Monday's Assembly sitting.

"What does it take for the DUP to wise up?" he asked Assembly members.

"What does it take to ensure that the £300million that is sitting there available to the men, women and children who are cold and hungry?"

The Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy insists that without an Executive there is no legal mechanism to allow him to access a pot of £300m currently sitting in his department. 

The parties believe the money could be used to help ease the rapid rise in the cost of living for families across Northern Ireland.

There have been several meetings involving the leaders of the Stormont parties to try to find agreement on how to access the funding.  But, so far there has been no break through.

In response to Mr O'Dowd's criticism of the DUP, deputy leader, MLA Paula Bradley said: "The problem is not the lack of a first minister, but the lack of political agreement from some to table and support a plan that delivers for hard pressed households... actions not words will help those in need... a plan not political positioning is the basis of moving this forward."

It is understood the DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has written to the other party leaders and requested them to "park" the debate about whether a first minister is needed or not, and to reach agreement on how to spend the money. 

He has asked the leaders how much of the £300m they believe should be spent on helping with the cost of living and has also asked the Finance Department how much bids from other departments amount to. 

Some ministers have argued that their departments need more money than currently allocated to deal with increased spending pressures.

The SDLP is also now investigating whether it is possible for emergency legislation to unlock the £300m could be brought through the Assembly.  Mark H Durkan MLA is communicating with the Speakers' office about the possibility of bringing a Private Members' Bill to the floor.  

It's understood other parties support the move but once again time for doing business in the assembly is very short - with next week set to be the last full week of business ahead of the election.  The SDLP move could mean MLAs would have to sit on Saturdays to get the legislation through before the end of the current mandate.