Government pledges support for Stormont stability

3 weeks ago 28

Chris Heaton-HarrisImage source, Reuters

Image caption,

NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris issued a statement on Sunday

By Jayne McCormack

BBC News NI political correspondent

The UK government has said it will work alongside Stormont's power-sharing executive to maintain stability.

It comes amid upheaval in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) following the resignation of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as its leader.

NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said could guarantee the government would "continue to work with all the political parties" to make progress.

Sir Jeffrey has said he will be strenuously contesting the charges

First Minister Michelle O'Neill said her priority was stability in the wake of Sir Jeffrey's resignation on Friday.

She said the parties now had to "knuckle down" and "do the business of government".

Speaking in Dublin at an event to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising, she said: "My priority as first minister is to provide that stability, to work with all the other party leaders, all those who form our executive.

"We're a four-party coalition and I think now more than ever, what we need to see is cohesion.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Heaton-Harris reflected on the return of power-sharing eight weeks ago and welcomed the appointment of Gavin Robinson as DUP interim leader.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was charged with rape and other historical sexual offences on Friday

"In that time we have seen how the political parties of Northern Ireland can work together with the first and deputy first ministers demonstrating in word and deed their commitment to making Stormont work for everyone in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Following the shocking news of Friday morning, I welcome their commitment to ensure this great work continues and can guarantee the UK government will continue to work with all the political parties to build strongly on this progress."

The Northern Ireland secretary also commented on appointment of Mr Robinson as DUP interim leader.

"I look forward to working with him to deliver on our commitments contained within the command paper 'Strengthening the Union'," he said.

"We will continue to work alongside the executive to make Northern Ireland a great place to live, work and invest."

Mr Heaton-Harris worked closely alongside Sir Jeffrey when it came to negotiations to secure the return of power-sharing at Stormont in February.

The first and deputy first ministers have said they are determined to protect the functioning of power-sharing.

The assembly and executive at Stormont were suspended for two years and only returned in February after the DUP ended its boycott - which it began in a row over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Gavin Robinson was appointed as interim DUP leader on Friday

DUP assembly member and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said on Saturday she was "determined" to do all she can to ensure political stability in the days ahead.

Mr Robinson has said the party's thoughts were with those who have "put their faith in the justice system".

On Friday, the DUP said Sir Jeffrey had confirmed he had been charged with allegations of an historical nature and was stepping down as leader.

The party's officers suspended him from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.

Sir Jeffrey's letter to the DUP said he would be strenuously contesting the charges.

A 57-year-old woman has also been charged with aiding and abetting in connection with the alleged offences.

They were both arrested on Thursday morning by PSNI detectives and were questioned before being charged on Thursday night.

He and the 57-year-old woman are due to appear in court in April.

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