A row over “double jobbing”, which would mean MPs in Westminster also sitting in the Stormont assembly, has erupted in Northern Ireland with accusations the government is trying to prop up the Democratic Unionist party.
The chair of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, Simon Hoare, described the move as a bad idea and urged the House of Lords to reject the relevant amendment to proposed legislation.
The proposals, to temporarily restore a practice that was banned in 2016, would allow the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, to contest the Northern Ireland assembly elections in May while remaining an MP at Westminster.
On Monday, Donaldson confirmed that he planned to stand for the local Lagan Valley seat at Stormont while remaining an MP, a move that could make him eligible to become first or deputy first minister if the DUP succeeded in becoming the biggest or second biggest party.
He was pressed on reports that a second DUP MP was also planning to stand for local election but declined to identify the individual, saying the selection process was not yet complete.
The double-jobbing proposal has been roundly condemned by all the other parties, with the SDLP MP Claire Hanna telling the BBC on Monday it was “a stroke to benefit Jeffrey Donaldson”.
She told Good Morning Ulster it was impossible to “bilocate” jobs and any attempt to do so would lead to worse government in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist party MLA [member of the legislative assembly] Mike Nesbitt said the plan “reeks of corruption”, claiming Boris Johnson’s government was “going out of its way to prop up and support one party”.
Donaldson categorically denied there was any pact with the UK government, telling BBC’s Good Morning Ulster on Monday: “There is no agreement on this between the DUP and the government.”
The DUP hit out at what it termed “fake outrage” by political opponents, saying the proposal would bring stability to Northern Ireland “at a time when devolution is deeply unstable because of a one-sided and undemocratic [Brexit] protocol”.
The Alliance party deputy leader and North Down MP, Stephen Farry, has called on the government to reconsider the plan and said he hoped the House of Lords would vote against the change to the law.
He has described the move as a “backwards step” and said there had been a lack of consultation on the issue.
“Doing this so close to an election campaign is interfering in the democratic process,” he said.
Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister and vice-president of Sinn Féin, which does not take its seats in Westminster, labelled it as “disgraceful interference in the upcoming assembly election”.
The government put forward the proposal in an amendment to the Northern Ireland (ministers, elections and petitions of concern) bill last Wednesday, following a proposal by the Lib Dem peer and former leader of the Alliance party in Northern Ireland Lord Alderdice during the committee stage in the Lords.
On Sunday, Farry distanced himself from his predecessor saying Alderdice did not speak for the party and accusing him of “poor judgment”.
Source: The Guardian