The government’s plan to temporarily reinstate double-jobbing for Northern Irish politicians has sparked fierce opposition from four of the five working parties.
The UK government has come under fire for plans to allow MPs to retain their seats in Westminster while being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The return of the “dual mandate”, or double-jobbing, would allow DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to contest the upcoming assembly election, while also remaining MP from the Lagan Valley in Westminster.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on Saturday accused the UK government of interfering in the assembly election, while Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beatty accused the Northern Ireland office of effectively supporting the DUP election campaign.
The move is detailed in a letter from Lord Kane, the junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, to members of the House of Lords.
It will only see the dual mandate back until the next UK general election in 2024.
The current law banning politicians from doing dual duties as MLAs and MPs came into force in 2016.
The letter, seen by the PA news agency, said the rule-change is intended to avoid triggering by-elections in Northern Ireland.
In the letter, Lord Cain said: “There is no appetite or consensus in Northern Ireland to continue the dual mandate indefinitely or to return to a situation in which the overwhelming majority of Northern Ireland MPs were also members of the Assembly.”
He told peers that the UK government “aims” to support the functioning of the Assembly by providing stability in instances where parties in Northern Ireland need to reconfigure their representation in Parliament and Stormont, without triggering parliamentary by-elections. is required. ,
I have been both MP and MLA: You can’t do both things properly for long
The UK government, Lord Cain said, plans to introduce an amendment to replace the law on dual mandates in the coming weeks.
It is part of measures that have already passed through the House of Commons, designed to strengthen power-sharing in Northern Ireland following the return of the executive in early 2020.
However, plans to restore the dual mandate have already proved controversial and have been criticized by some parties in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill said in a statement: “The plan to reinstate dual jobs by allowing MPs to become legislators is unacceptable and should be abolished.
“This is shameful interference in the upcoming assembly election and a desperate attempt by Boris Johnson and Tory ministers in the NIO to return Jeffrey Donaldson to the assembly and support the DUP.”
He called it “a big step backwards for politics here”.
Mr BT tweeted on Saturday: “The fact that the NIO is now directly supporting the DUP election campaign means they are not a neutral department.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long called it a “seriously regressive step”.
She tweeted: “I bet my political future on ending double-jobbing in 2010, when I left council and assembly to focus on representing M constituents at Westminster. I’m going to ban double-jobbing. I was successful.”
“Other parties had promised to act, but did so only when compelled by law in 2014.
“I have been both an MP and an MLA: you cannot do both for a long time.
“The ban was subject to extensive consultation: it has not been reversed.
“Quite clear why this is being done.”
SDLP MP Claire Hanna tweeted: “Being an MP is a full-time job, and then some, as is being a legislator.
“People deserve representation at both levels, and with good reason the dual mandate was abolished. NIOs should not threaten DUPs with transfers and facilitate gambling.”
Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), called the plan a “shameless reform”.
“Last throw of the dice for some,” he tweeted.
“The dual mandate was abolished for good reasons. That reason hasn’t changed. Only the DUP’s desperation has changed. What price has the DUP paid for this?”
Following his election as party leader, there was intense speculation in political circles about when and how Sir Jeffrey would return to local politics in Northern Ireland as a legislator.
After being elected as DUP leader last summer, he promised to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It comes as the party’s new leader grapples with federalist anger over the controversial post-Brexit arrangement for Northern Ireland, as well as worries about a drop in electoral ratings for the DUP after months of internal divisions.
The DUP share of the vote in Sir Jeffrey’s Constitution also dropped to over 16% in the 2019 general election, making a by-election in the Lagan Valley an unlikely prospect for the party.