A sitting of the Stormont Assembly on Monday is not a political “stunt”, the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said.
The DUP refusal to elect a speaker and facilitate the formation of an Executive remains unchanged, as the row between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol continues.
Sinn Féin’s Ms Hargey denied that the return to Stormont was a stunt, given the position of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson.
The DUP is refusing to enter the power-sharing institutions until its issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are sufficiently resolved.
“It is not time-wasting. We were elected to sit in Stormont, to make legislation and to protect people within our communities,” Ms Hargey said.
“Our role as elected leaders is to work on behalf of those who elected us, to work on behalf of communities. We have been hearing the struggle, people are crying out for help.”
The Stormont Assembly will meet on Monday in a new bid to nominate a speaker after more than 30 MLAs signed a recall petition.
Following a motion from Sinn Féin, outgoing speaker Alex Maskey said in a letter to MLAs that the purpose of Monday’s recall was to elect a speaker, deputy speakers and to appoint a first minister and deputy first minister.
“We are not willing to hold the institutions to ransom,” Ms Hargey told the BBC Sunday Politics programme.
DUP should do the 'right thing'
DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons hit out at Sinn Féin for recalling the Assembly.
“Sinn Féin know this recall will not change anything. The problem is the protocol,” he said.
“We don’t want to be in this position, but we have made more progress in two weeks than we made in the previous two years.
“It’s unfortunate that it has taken this step to bring the matter to a head.”
Concerns were also raised earlier this week about what the lack of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland means for the £400 (€470) discount on energy bills announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of a range of measures to tackle the spiralling cost of living.
Sinn Féin Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said that the lack of an Executive will pose challenges for introducing the discount for households in Northern Ireland
Ms Hargey said Mr Murphy was looking at “workarounds”.
“We don’t have functional institutions, because normally when you’re doing emergency payments like this you need to pass legislation within the Assembly,” Ms Hargey said.
“That is still a predicament in terms of those means-tested benefits as well. We do still need to find a way of passing that emergency legislation. So we’re continuing to look at finding workarounds.”
Ms Hargey added: “But the quickest way of making these payments and giving certainty to people outside is to actually have a formed Executive in order to get these payments going.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the DUP should do the “right thing” and support the nomination of a speaker.
The Foyle MP said: “Their decision to stop the Assembly from sitting has left us powerless to get support to people dealing with the costs crisis.
“While I would prefer to see our institutions functioning as normal, if we can get a speaker in place the SDLP will introduce emergency legislation to allow ministers to access the over £300 million sitting in Stormont’s bank accounts and use it to help the people who need it most.”