SDLP set to propose amendment to Speaker election in bid to restore Stormont

The DUP has been refusing to participate in nominating a new speaker which would allow sittings to proceed.

The SDLP is to propose a procedural tweak intended to allow Northern Ireland Assembly sittings to resume.

There has been stalemate at Stormont, with the DUP refusing to participate in nominating a new speaker which would allow sittings to proceed.

The DUP has also refused to nominate ministers to the Executive since the Assembly election last May, until changes are made to Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Stormont parties are due to meet Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in Belfast later.

Separately, talks are ongoing between the UK and the EU over the protocol.

The parties are also set to meet with Irish premier Leo Varadkar and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday.

There is just over a week to the deadline to restore the Executive on 19th January.

If a new Executive is not formed by 19th January, the Government assumes a legal responsibility to call a snap Assembly election by 13th April.

Speaking ahead of the round-table meeting in Belfast, SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said his party would propose changes to the process for the appointment of a speaker in a bid to clear the political logjam.

He is set to propose an amendment to the rules governing the election of an Assembly speaker to allow for a two-thirds majority.

The SDLP say the move, which would still require nationalist and unionist support for a candidate for speaker, would prevent one party from being able to stop the election.

Mr O'Toole said progress in the negotiations between the UK and EU earlier this week "should provide a basis for political generosity from all parties in Northern Ireland."

Agreement around post-Brexit data-sharing has been hailed as a positive step in ongoing talks to find a solution to the row.

"Unfortunately, it appears highly likely that the DUP will continue to prioritise its cynical party-political wrecking strategy which has left people here without a functioning Assembly or Executive since last year - at least for the foreseeable future," Mr O'Toole said.

"That approach simply isn't good enough when thousands of people can't get a hospital appointment, when families across our communities are struggling to keep the heating on and they need help from their elected representatives.

"That is why the SDLP is proposing a change to the process for the election of an Assembly speaker that will end the one-party veto that has frustrated the mandates of every other MLA and frustrated the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

"A speaker should instead be chosen by a two-thirds majority of MLAs which would require support from nationalists, unionists and others.

"This can be achieved quickly with agreement for the UK government to legislate at pace."

Mr O'Toole added: "Politicians cannot stand by while our health service collapses, while public sector workers endure pay regression and while inflation hurts hard-working homes across our communities."

The DUP has stated it will not allow a return to power-sharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

It claims the treaty has undermined Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Great Britain.

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