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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 23 March, 2018

The deadline has passed and Northern Ireland is heading for a snap election

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will have no choice but name a date for elections later today.

Updated 5pm

TIME HAS BEEN called on Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government as no deal has been reached between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly returned to work in Stormont at noon with Sinn Féin failing to nominate a Deputy First Minister following the resignation of Martin McGuinness.

Nominating officer Michelle O’Neill told parliament that her party would not be putting forward a replacement, saying that the people will now have their say.


Earlier, Maurice Morrow nominated Arlene Foster to the role of First Minister, which she accepted. However, the largest two parties are required to nominate for the roles of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Under those rules, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has no choice but to call Assembly elections as the 5pm deadline for nominations passed with the positions still vacant.

Arriving for today’s session, First Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster accused Sinn Féin of forcing an election that “Northern Ireland does not need”.

McGuinness resigned last Monday in the wake of Foster refusing to stand down in the wake of a controversy over the cash-for-ash, a renewable heat project she stood over as minister.

Under the rules of governance of Northern Ireland, McGuinness’ resignation automatically put Foster out of her job too.

However, last week Sinn Féin’s Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald outlined a wide array of hostilities going on between the DUP and Sinn Féin in the backdrop of the controversy.

These involve disagreements over the Irish language and LGBT rights – topics touched on by O’Neill in her brief words to parliament this afternoon.

What happens next? 

It is expected that Brokenshire will outline a date for elections at a news conference at 5.30pm.

After the election, the parties will have three weeks to form a new Northern Ireland Assembly.

However, if a similar result to the makeup of the Assembly now is returned – and issues are so deep that they cannot be addressed – it is unlikely a deal will be struck. This would result in a power-sharing government not being re-established.

The Andrew Marr Show Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire. Source: Jonathan Brady

This raises the possibility that Northern Ireland could face a return to direct rule – however, Brockenshire told the BBC yesterday that he is not contemplating a return to British direct rule.

I’m not contemplating any alternatives to devolved government in Northern Ireland. That is my absolute and resolute faith.
My responsibility is to see that we are working with each of the parties to ensure that we are not looking at greater division.
My concern is that an election campaign will be divisive, will actually lead to greater distance between the parties.

The main nationalist opposition party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, has called for “joint-authority” where London and Dublin rule will share the responsibility of governing Northern Ireland, if attempts to establish devolution fail.

All this will happen against the backdrop of Brexit, with Prime Minister Theresa May stating she is going for a hard Brexit. It is still unclear who will speak on behalf of Northern Ireland during negotiations, though Brockenshire said he is determined to get the best deal for the people of Northern Ireland.

Both topics will be high on the agenda when May meets Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin at the end of this month.

With reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll

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