By Ray O’Hanlon
The move by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend parliament until mid-October, and just two weeks before the UK is scheduled to quit the European Union, is being backed by the main Northern Ireland political party that sits in the House of Commons, while being criticized by the main North party that doesn’t sit.
The whiff of irony, as always, is a bedfellow of politics.
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DUP leader Arlene Foster told reporters that Boris Johnson was “well within his rights” to suspend parliament.
Mrs. Foster said the Queen’s Speech (which would take place when parliament resumes on October 14) would offer an opportunity to bring focus back to Northern Ireland, with the renewal of her party’s confidence and supply deal with the governing Conservatives led by Mr. Johnson.
“I think the Prime Minister is well within his rights to look for a Queen’s Speech – he wants to set out his domestic agenda,” the Irish News in Belfast reported Foster as saying.
“It gives us the opportunity here in Northern Ireland, through ourselves, to bring a focus back to Northern Ireland again, particularly around the confidence and supply agreement, and I look forward to engaging with the prime minister over the coming weeks.
“As outlined in the confidence and supply agreement in 2017, the terms of that agreement will also be reviewed in advance of the new session. We originally envisaged that being after two years. This will be an opportunity to ensure our priorities align with those of the government.”
The agreement is essentially a deal between the DUP and Conservatives in which the ten DUP MPs support the Conservatives in return for a billion pounds in spending money for Northern Ireland.
Foster, according to the Irish News report, said the DUP would continue its work with the prime minister to strengthen the union, deliver a “sensible EU exit deal” and restore devolution in Northern Ireland.
Foster said parliament would only be in suspension for four days more than originally envisaged during the break for (political party) conference season.
“There will be ample time to discuss Brexit if MPs want to discuss that before the European Council, which I understand is on October 17th, and indeed after the European Council as well,” she said.
Asked whether the DUP could become isolated in Northern Ireland after the Ulster Unionist Party criticized Mr. Johnson’s move as an abuse of process, Foster said: “The Ulster Unionist Party will have to answer for themselves.”
The DUP supports Brexit even though 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland opted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s move to suspend parliament would not force Sinn Féin to rethink it abstentionist policy at Westminster.
Party Assembly member Conor Murphy called the suggestion “absurd” and a “nonsense,” in a meeting with reporters today.
At the same time, Mr. Murphy, again according to an Irish News report, also heavily criticized the DUP for backing the Johnson’s suspension move.
“By throwing their weight behind the British government today, who are clearly determined to drive through a no-deal Brexit, once again they are demonstrating their own contempt for the people who elected all of us in this part of the world,” Murphy said.
“Whatever happens in Ireland is of very little regard to them (the UK government) and the DUP will find to their cost at some stage that they have been puppets in relation to all of this.”
Sinn Féin has seven members elected as MPs in the House of Commons, but they do not take their seats as part of an abstentionist policy going back decades.
The party has come under increased pressure to take those seats in the context of Brexit and its own anti-Brexit position.
“Without getting into the argument about our mandate and the platform we were elected on, this day of all days when the British government decided to set aside parliamentary interests, decided to ride roughshod over the parliament and force their own position, then the argument that Sinn Féin should be sitting in there, as impotent as the rest of the MPs, I think is a nonsense,” said Mr. Murphy.
“If they (the British government) have that regard for their own political institutions what regard have they got for Irish interests – and our clear view is they have none.
“Irish interests will not be defended at Westminster, they will be defended by the Irish government, by the European Union, by the Americans on Capitol Hill – those are the people who are defending Ireland’s interests, it’s not being found in Westminster.”