The latest attempt to restore the powersharing institutions at Stormont has failed, after the DUP branded a recall of the Assembly a “stunt”.
The party had been urged by Sinn Fein to drop its executive boycott to help deliver energy support payments to people in Northern Ireland struggling to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.
But during the recalled session of the Assembly on Wednesday, the unionist party once again refused to back the election of a speaker, meaning that no other business could take place.
During an often heated debate, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie apologised after stating that DUP MLAs were screaming and whining “like a girl”.
The DUP has refused to engage with the devolved institutions in Belfast in the wake of May’s election, meaning it has not been possible to form a ministerial executive.
The boycott is part of the DUP’s campaign of opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol and the party says it will not return to powersharing until decisive action is taken to remove the protocol’s economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Negotiations between the UK Government and the EU to resolve differences over the protocol are continuing.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill told the Assembly that any resolution to the protocol difficulties would not be resolved at Stormont.
Ms O’Neill urged the UK and EU to intensify negotiations but she said that in the meantime it was vital MLAs were able to do their jobs at Stormont.
“It is clear for all to see that the DUP’s political tactics is to abandon our people to a Tory government intent on inflicting cuts and austerity on the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
Households in Northern Ireland are due to be credited with a £400 payment automatically, to help with energy costs this winter as part of a UK-wide scheme.
In his autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said all households in Northern Ireland would receive an additional £200 payment, in recognition of the region’s dependence on home heating oil.
While consumers in the rest of the UK have already begun to receive support payments, there has been no decision about how and when they will be made in Northern Ireland.
“The public need our support – do your job, turn up.”
Representing the DUP, MLA Gordon Lyons said: “This recall of the Assembly is nothing more than a farce.
“We know it is a stunt, the public know it is a stunt and the other parties know it is a stunt also.”
Mr Lyons claimed Sinn Fein was using the recall as a way to “distract” from claims made at an ongoing Special Criminal Court trial in Dublin linking the party to organised criminality.
He also said the levers to deliver cost-of-living support were in Westminster, not Stormont.
“In the summertime, there was a way forward and a mechanism identified for delivery. Energy suppliers and the Utility Regulator worked hard to put that in place and at the last minute, the Government has started to consider alternative options.
“The time for dithering is over. They have the money, the systems and the capacity to deliver this and they need to get on with it.
“And that is key; there are things that we have the money, the power and the capacity to deliver and there are things which are outside our control.”
Speaking before the Assembly session began, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie called on Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to hold a summit to brief Stormont parties on the progress of negotiations over the protocol.
Mr Beattie said: “Today’s recall is gesture politics and it is borne out of frustration because nothing has happened over this past number of months.
“We have squandered two months. It is looking like we will go into January with no plan to deal with the issues we now face.
“Political parties need to know what is going on and we are receiving absolutely no briefs.
“I am now calling on the Secretary of State to put a plan in place for early January, to instigate a summit for all of the parties. To get a brief from the UK Government, from the EU exactly where we are in regards to the protocol.”
On Tuesday evening, Mr Heaton-Harris reaffirmed his intention to cut MLAs’ pay by 27.5%, but did not clarify when exactly the cut would come into effect.