Sinn Fein engaged in summer of 'poke a unionist in the eye' says DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
WATCH: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking to reporters:
The DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused Sinn Fein of engaging in a summer of "poke a unionist in the eye" after the party challenged the DUP to re-enter the Executive and restore power sharing.
Sir Jeffrey was speaking after a meeting between party leaders and the head of the civil service Jayne Brady.
The party leaders were warned of a "bleak outlook" this winter, even if the return of a fully functioning Stormont Executive is agreed.
The DUP has blocked the formation of a new Executive since May's Assembly election in protest at Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.
If a new power-sharing administration is not in place within six months of the election, the UK Government assumes a legal responsibility to call a fresh poll within the following three months.
Following the meeting, Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the ongoing absence of an Executive during the cost-of-living crisis was "unacceptable" and said the DUP should state when they intend to allow an Executive to be reformed.
"We're facing into a situation where, at the end of October, even in the caretaker capacity that we are now in, we will be out of that as ministers... so effectively left in the midst of this crisis...
"We'll be left with absolutely nobody at the wheel in this institution whatsoever," he told reporters at Stormont Castle.
"That's an unacceptable situation."
Mr Murphy said he challenged DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to "give some sense of when they intend to allow the rest of us to form an Executive".
"We can't get any sense of clarity in relation to that," he said.
"While people are facing into an enormous crisis, while bills are mounting, we are in a situation where we can't get any certainty from the British government in terms of an intervention and no certainty from the DUP in terms of reforming an Executive here, which could take at least some decisions to try and mitigate some of the pressures that are building."
Sir Jeffrey hit back, accusing Sinn Fein of "not listening" and engaging in a summer of "poke a unionist in the eye".
"I will do what I believe is the right thing to do, I will stand by the word I gave to the people of Northern Ireland.
"[Sinn Fein] certainly do not listen to unionists, and what we have had over the summer is poke a unionist in the eye from Sinn Fein and I am not going to be poked in the eye by Sinn Fein.
Explaining his party's position, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said "decisive action" needs to be taken on the Northern Ireland Protocol
"Our position is very clear on that, we sought a mandate for our position, we received a mandate for it and I stand by what we said.
"But, of course, we want to ensure that people who are really facing pressure at the moment because of the cost of living are able to get the support and help that they need."
He added that support will come from Westminster and that the new prime minister next week will announce further measures to support hard-pressed households across the UK.
UUP leader Doug Beattie described a "pretty sobering meeting".
He said they discussed what they could do if there was a fully-functioning Executive, adding that even in that scenario there was a "bleak outlook".
"My call is for whoever the new prime minister is going to be, they'll have a full in-tray, but one of those items that needs to be pushed up higher is the Northern Ireland Protocol because we need it dealt with, and we need it dealt with quickly, so that we can get our Executive up and running again, and try and start dealing with some of these issues we are dealing with," he said.
"We are in unprecedented times. We're going to need a prime minister to make unprecedented decisions, but first and foremost we need an Executive up and running right now so that we can do some business here to try and help people.
"I would appeal to all parties to think long term, to think about the people of Northern Ireland and get themselves back into an Executive - and do it now."
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long described a "sombre read out" in terms of the state of the economy and challenges being faced.
"Behind that, there is the spectre that in eight weeks' time if we don't have a fully functioning Executive we might be in a much worse position with no one there to guide or direct, with the civil service unable to take decisions on key issues and with Northern Ireland essentially being a rudderless ship adrift on high seas," she said.
"The winter looks bleak for many people... The onus is on the DUP and the incoming government to resolve their issues in a way that respects the opinions of all of the parties in Northern Ireland and in a way that allows us to get the Executive up and running.
"We are facing into an economic crisis of the kind that we haven't seen since the early 1970s and we are doing it with instability at Westminster and a rudderless ship here in Parliament Buildings.
"That's just not acceptable."
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