DUP's Donaldson says party will hold government to commitment on Union

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the Government has shown its commitment to the integrity of the Union in the King's speech and his party would hold them to it.

He was speaking after the King’s Speech outlined the Government’s plans for the next Parliament. It was the first King's speech in 70 years.

However, there was no specific mention of Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey told UTV the government gave a "firm commitment" to protecting the integrity of the Union.

"And we are going to hold them to that."

He said the government could not commit to strengthening the social fabric of the Union "without restoring Northern Ireland's place within that Union.

"We need to see those words matched with solutions," he said.

He said negoiations with government continued this week and he hoped for a solution. He said they were looking for legislation as well as "practical solutions".

He added: “There are many areas to be welcomed within the Government’s priorities, including tackling online crime and ensuring the most vulnerable, especially young people, are protected on social media. We cannot allow a ‘wild west’ approach to prevail online. "However, the Government’s priorities must also be focused on delivering a more prosperous and united country.

"We have been campaigning on behalf of working families and it is disappointing there was no specific commitment in relation to support for childcare and particularly to ensure it is affordable for parents in all parts of the United Kingdom. Increasing the tax-free childcare allowance would provide an immediate benefit to working parents everywhere. Assistance with childcare is not just of benefit to families but is also of benefit to economic growth and the delivery of vital public services."

The SDLP, however, said the absence of any mention of efforts to restore Stormont in the King's speech showed that talks between the Government and DUP were not working.

The speech outlined 21 laws that ministers intend to pass in the next year-long session of Parliament, including laws around oil, smoking and football.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said this "demonstrates clearly that the privatised process between the DUP and the British Government isn’t working".

The Foyle MP continued: “Anyone from the north listening to the speech in the hope of hearing more about progress on restoring the democratic institutions will be sorely disappointed.

"The privatised process between the DUP and the government, to the exclusion of all other traditions, is also running out of road.

"If the talks do not reach a decisive conclusion in the short term then there must be a new conversation about how power is shared between the traditions across the north."

The DUP withdrew from the Stormont institutions last year in protest against the internal UK trade barriers created by the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Power sharing is unable to function in Northern Ireland without the support of the region's largest unionist and nationalist parties.

The UK and EU agreed the Windsor Framework earlier this year in an attempt to address unionist concerns about the protocol, but the DUP has indicated it will not return to Stormont until the London government provides further assurances over NI's place in the UK.

Last week DUP leader Sir Jeffrey said he could not be certain that power sharing will return by the end of the year.

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