The leader of the SDLP denounced a Stormont Assembly session as a “sham, stunt and joke” after leading his colleagues in walking out.

Refusing to participate in the nomination of a new speaker during the recalled session, Colum Eastwood said his party would play no part in what he described as a shadow, unionist-dominated “talking shop”.

He accused the DUP of using emotions and sensitivities around the abortion debate to create a political stunt.

“Today was a sham, it was a stunt, it was a joke – it was important to call it out,” said Mr Eastwood.

“If we want to get serious about dealing with all the difficult issues that we have around our health service and everything else, we need to get back to work.

“People want us to get back to work, but they don’t want us to pretend to get back to work just to satisfy a base that they have ignored for over a thousand days.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, whose party attended the sitting, was also critical of the proceedings.

Robin Swann
Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

He urged Secretary of State Julian Smith to convene urgent all-party talks to see if there is any hope of saving the devolved institutions.

“It’s a sad day for democracy in Northern Ireland and it’s a sad day for the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“There was an opportunity to show there was a willingness and an ability for the politicians in Northern Ireland to actually to listen to the people and actually start delivering legislation here and to do the job that we were elected to do.”

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry, whose party boycotted the sitting, branded events in the chamber a “complete and utter disgrace”.

“This was an attempt to essentially rip up the rules under which this Assembly functions,” he said.

“Things are bad enough in Northern Ireland, we have had over 1,000 days without a functioning Assembly.

“What we want back is a proper Assembly with an executive and one that can pass properly scrutinised legislation.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister backed the ill-fated private member’s bill designed to thwart abortion reform.

Jim Allister
Jim Allister (Brian Lawless/PA)

“This is an exceptionally dark day for one community in Northern Ireland, that is the community of the unborn,” he said afterwards.

Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey, who did not attend, said the DUP could not stand in the way of reform.

“We feel that what is happening is an absolute sham so the DUP can say they fought to the end, when in reality they have done very little since this passed through Westminster,” she said.

People Before Profit leader Gerry Carroll also boycotted the sitting.

“Today is a shameful stunt by the DUP to try to block rights for women, for the LGBT community and it’s a real disgrace what they are trying to do,” he said.