London party

Ben Lowry: Duplication change appears to be proposed by London to shore up DUP

It is reported that Westminster MPs elected to Stormont will, for a time, be able to remain in the House of Commons – which appears to be a plan to help DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s transition to the Assembly.

I had written about the legacy of The Troubles, on which there have been a number of notable developments, but which is a subject that may be revisited in the weeks to come.

Instead, here are some early insights from a dramatic report that emerged late in the evening.

The BBC says MPs will be eligible for election to Stormont Assembly in the next election, due in May, but will be able to keep their seats in Westminster.

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However, dual terms will only be allowed until the next general election, which could be held until December 2024.

Details are still emerging and at the time of writing this is unconfirmed, but it appears to be a very clear effort to get the DUP out of a major stalemate.

It shows a determination on the part of the Government in London to maintain the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, amid repeated warnings from the DUP that they will shut down this Stormont parliament and hold an election if there are not enough progress on NI Protocol reform (Irish Sea boundary).

What is still unclear on Friday evening is whether or not this is part of a deal between the DUP and the Tories.

For months reporters have been privy to suggestions that some sort of deal will be struck to help the DUP out of its various crises.

A huge problem for the party is, first, how to get Sir Jeffrey Donaldson elected to the Assembly and, second, how to retain Lagan Valley.

The web version of this article will link to an article I wrote a few months ago about how one of the safest union seats in the country suddenly became a constituency with a very split vote.

The swing against the DUP in the Lagan Valley in the 2019 Westminster election was spectacular and the biggest in Northern Ireland by percentage.

It is likely, but by no means guaranteed, that the DUP would retain him if Sir Jeffrey entered Stormont and, due to duplication rules, had to quit as MP, leading to a by-election.

It is clear from last night’s announcement that Boris Johnson’s government does not want to see the DUP plunged into even deeper trouble.

The DUP faces enough of a challenge in the Lagan Valley in the upcoming assembly elections.

He once had four Stormont seats in the constituency and now has just two. It is very likely, but not even certain, that he will have two, given the large number of well-known candidates currently in the Lagan Valley, and the strong increase in votes from most of the rival DUP parties.

Yet it still seems possible, despite sometimes conflicting signals from the party, that Sir Jeffrey, Edwin Poots and Paul Givan are all there.

The BBC says details of the plan to allow MPs such as Sir Jeffrey to remain MPs after they enter the assembly were outlined in a letter from government peer Lord Caine to his fellow Lords.

Jonathan Caine is little known to the general public but was a very influential adviser to the Northern Ireland Office.

Critics of the NIO’s institutional weakness in the face of a partisan and nationalist Irish Foreign Office, of which I was a member, have been struck by the recent appointment of Lord Caine as junior NIO minister.

It seemed like for once London was putting in a minister who understood some of the cultural issues within the NIO and perhaps a welcome retreat from the UK tendency to install NI ministers who are, at least in tone, neutral on the political divide. here.

Equally significant was the appointment of Conor Burns as a minister who openly expresses his trade unionism.

But some trade unionists will be alarmed by this new development of duplication.

TUV chief Jim Allister QC MLA said in a statement late last night:

“Tonight’s news that MPs will be allowed to contest Assembly elections while retaining their seats in Westminster is a shameless move. Is this the latest roll of the dice, a desperate attempt by the DUP to reverse its fall in the polls? »

He added: “If that’s the case, I suspect they’re going to have a rude awakening. Dual terms were abolished for a good reason. The public demanded a one man/one job policy. It they are unlikely to be impressed by the reversal of this policy.

“The only thing that has changed since the abolition of dual mandates is the desperation of the DUP. What price did they pay for it? Is that why they toned down their opposition to the protocol? »

This last point is the most important. The DUP has recently gone on the defensive when it has been criticized, especially by Mr Allister, for appearing in recent weeks to have softened its rhetoric on the NI protocol.

Gregory Campbell wrote a lengthy letter to this newspaper during the week, attacking the TUV chief for his persistent warnings about the DUP weakening his position.

So was there an understanding between the DUP and the Tories? Or is it a sweetener given to the Unionist party with no assurance in return.

I happen to have argued for years that banning duplication did nothing to help politics here. The ban on being a councilor and deputy or deputy is particularly stupid.

I think you should be able to be a member of all three – council, Stormont and Westminster – if the voters vote for you, but then you should only receive one salary, whichever is higher.

However, this development, if accurately reported, appears to be a cynical way to alter a flawed policy.

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