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Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris before speaking to the media outside Erskine House, Belfast last Friday Alamy Stock Photo
The North

Announcement of no December Stormont election is 'Christmas miracle'

The NI Secretary has faced criticism for failing to provide clarity on whether he will call an election.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Nov 2022

ALLIANCE LEADER NAOMI has said the announcement that there will be no election in Northern Ireland before the end of the year is a “Christmas miracle”. 

Earlier today, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has confirmed an election will not take place in the region before the end of the year. 

The 24-week deadline for forming a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and power sharing executive following May’s election ran out at midnight last Friday. 

The UK Government then assumed responsibility to call an election within 12 weeks.

Frustration had been building over the last week as Heaton-Harris failed to set a date for a new poll last Friday, despite repeatedly warning that he would do so the minute a legislative deadline for calling the poll passed.

In a statement this morning, Heaton-Harris said that since last Friday he has said “valuable conversations with people across Northern Ireland, including businesses and community representatives”. 

“I can now confirm that no Assembly election will take place in December, or ahead of the festive season,” he said. 

“Current legislation requires me to name a date for an election to take place within 12 weeks of 28 October and next week I will make a statement in Parliament to lay out my next steps,” the Northern Ireland Secretary said. 

“My objective, what the people of Northern Ireland deserve, is the restoration of a strong devolved government. My duty is to create the right environment for the parties in Northern Ireland to work together to restore the devolved institutions and deliver on crucial issues impacting Northern Ireland’s people,” he added. 

Heaton-Harris said he “does not take this duty lightly” nor does he “overlook the very real concerns people have around their cost of living”. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed the decision not to hold elections before Christmas.

He tweeted: “Fully share the Secretary of State’s objective; restoration of functioning institutions in NI.

“We had a good discussion this week, including on legal obligations under NDNA (New Decade New Approach).

No election pre Christmas is welcome and creates space for progress on other matters. We remain in contact.”

NI Parties

Speaking to reporters today, Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “I think if you talk to the average person on the street in Northern Ireland today most of them will see this as something of a Christmas miracle because nobody actually wanted to be going to the polls before Christmas.

“I think what they will respect him for, actually, is coming here as Secretary of State, listening to what people, what businesses, what the community has said, listening to the local politicians and taking the right decision rather than rather than taking the easy decision.” 

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said a decision over a fresh Stormont election should have been taken a week ago.

He described it as a “classic example of Tory chaos being imposed upon the people”. 

“Now we have no executive, no election, no budget, no ministers, and people are facing a deepening economic crisis, particularly in light of yesterday’s announcement from the Bank of England that interest rates are going to rise,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.  

O’Dowd also blasted the DUP, saying it is “no longer acceptable for them to boycott government”.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has called for a “razor-sharp focus on getting a solution, whether by negotiation or legislation” to the protocol.

“There is no solid basis for a fully functioning Stormont until NIP is replaced with arrangements that unionists can support. Progress in NI only made when unionists and nationalists are aboard,” he tweeted.

Heaton-Harris has also been criticised by Labour former Secretary of State Peter Hain who said: “Nobody thought an election would resolve anything, and why the government got itself into that position, who knows?

“It gives me no pleasure at all to say this but I don’t think the Secretary of State or the government know what they’re doing because there’s no clarity, there’s no purpose, there’s no strategy. It seems to be lurching from one problem to another.”

May election

An Assembly election on 5 May saw Sinn Féin displace the DUP as the largest party in Northern Ireland – the first time a nationalist party had come out on top.

The result meant Sinn Féin was entitled to the first minister’s post, with the DUP in line for the deputy first minister’s role.

However, the DUP maintained its block on the operation of a fully functioning executive and refused to nominate a deputy first minister.

Following 24 weeks of stalemate that ended last Friday, the UK Government assumed responsibility to call an election within 12 weeks.

With reporting by Christina Finn and Press Association

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