An attempt to restore the Assembly in Stormont has failed, frustrating the devolved legislature’s chances of passing a new organ donation law for Northern Ireland.
The DUP once again exercised their veto to prevent the election of a speaker, meaning no further business could be conducted.
The region’s main unionist party is boycotting power-sharing institutions in protest of the Northern Ireland Protocol to Brexit.
The latest in a series of failed attempts to recall the Assembly to elect a speaker centered on a stalled organ donation law.
The bill is named after six-year-old Belfast boy Daithi MacGabhann, who is awaiting a heart transplant.
Daithi and her parents, Mairtin MacGabhann and Seph Ni Mheallain, were in Stormont on Tuesday to witness the failed attempt to restore the institutions.
Mr MacGabhann described a very disappointing day and said that while they were not surprised, they had little hope that on Valentine’s Day, there might be a chance of a fairytale ending to Daithi’s Law.
He promised to focus on Westminster to pass the regulations needed to enact the legislation.
Rival parties had tried to increase pressure on the DUP to end their boycott of the return, but the unionist party blocked two more attempts to choose a speaker during Tuesday’s session.
The DUP has said that the regulations required to implement the opt-out donation system can be passed in Westminster in the continued absence of power sharing in Belfast.
The party says it will not operate the refund again until decisive action is taken to remove the economic barriers in the protocol on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Negotiations between the UK government and the EU to resolve differences over the protocol are continuing.
Addressing the Assembly, former DUP Premier Paul Givan urged Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to push the bill through Westminster.
“The DUP supports organ donation, we encourage people to sign up for the registry and we support the passage of this legislation,” he said.
“But the Secretary of State and the other parties in this chamber know the position that the DUP takes regarding the restoration of these institutions.”
Givan criticized Heaton-Harris’s handling of the issue and accused it of privately delivering different messages to the parties, based on their public statements.
“The Secretary of State is not handling this issue in the manner that should be commensurate with the position he holds, and I ask that he work in a much more constructive and apolitical manner than the approach he has taken to date.” he said.
“The government has legislated on other issues (same-sex marriage, abortion, the Irish language) and was able to do it on issues that were much more controversial than an issue like this, where we are all united, where we are all joined. the parties in this House have collectively asked the Secretary of State to pass in Westminster since, in the absence of an Assembly and the Executive, it remains the sovereign Parliament to do so.”
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who greeted Daithi and her parents on their arrival at Stormont, told her fellow MLAs that the recalled session was not about party politics.
“Today is about those of us here who are legislators doing our duty and complying with the Organ and Tissue Donation Act 2022 – the Daithi Act,” he said.
“Currently over 130 people are waiting for an organ, 90% of people in the north support organ donation and all parties in this chamber support this law.
“There is little more to say. The power is in the gift of every party and every MLA to save lives by legislating in this place here today.
“Simply put, not doing so is a dereliction of duty, and it’s truly discouraging for all the families involved.
“All of us here today have a responsibility to work together and, more importantly, to give hope to all those families who need us to achieve this.”
The opt-out organ donation system was approved by the MLAs last year, but the secondary legislation required to implement it cannot pass in the Assembly due to the current political deadlock.
The opt-out system would mean that adults in Northern Ireland would be presumed to be donors, unless they opt out. It is being implemented to increase donation rates in the region.
Attention will now turn to Westminster, where the DUP plans to introduce an amendment to the Government Executive Formation Bill to make it easier to pass regulations.
The bill deals with legislation needed to extend the deadline for new Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.
It will be up to the Westminster Speaker’s Office to decide whether to allow the DUP’s planned amendment to the organ donation rules.
The Northern Ireland Office has questioned the possibility of this being allowed, saying the scope of the bill is very limited.