PARTIES IN NORTHERN Ireland are currently engaging in talks with a view to agree a power-sharing agreement.
Party leaders are set to meet Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire today. Following the election, Brokenshire called for “urgent discussions” to see the devolved parliament get back on track.
“Now that assembly members have been elected, there is a limited window in which the assembly and executive can be restored,” he said.
Parties have three weeks to form a government. If this deadline passes, Brokenshire is legally obliged call another election. However, as the last Assembly election only took place in 2016, there is little appetite for this.
A possible return to direct rule from Westminster is also on the table. If the deadline is missed, the UK government could pass emergency legislation to suspend devolution for the first time in a decade in order to allow time for more negotiations.
No unionist majority
There’s a new dynamic in Northern politics following last Thursday’s election, which ended a unionist majority at Stormont – something that had been present since the province was established in 1921.
Here’s how the 90 seats were filled:
- DUP – 28 seats
- Sinn Fein – 27 seats
- SDLP – 12 seats
- UUP- 10 seats
- Alliance Party – eight seats
- Green Party – two seats
- People Before Profit – one seat
- Traditional Unionist Voice – one seat
- Independent unionist – one seat
Sinn Féin has said the party won’t work the DUP if Arlene Foster is nominated to retain her position as First Minister.
The snap election was triggered in January when Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister over the long-running Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or ‘cash for ash’ scandal.
The move came after Foster had ignored repeated calls for her to step aside while an investigation is carried out into the scheme – which could cost taxpayers in the North in the region of £400 million (about €460 million).
Senior DUP sources have told the Belfast Telegraph Foster should consider her role and not put pride before what is best for “the party and the people of Northern Ireland”.
Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said of the RHI controversy, “Arlene is not acceptable as First Minister until this matter is cleared up.”
He said Sinn Féin is not calling for her to step down as DUP leader, saying this is a matter for her and her party.
It can’t be business as usual. The political grounds have changed, we can’t have just another groundhog day up at Stormont.
“There’s a special role here for the British government particularly, and the British government – in terms of its stance on Brexit, in terms of its refusal to implement agreements in the past – have created the atmosphere which forced Martin McGuinness to resign on the back of the RHI scandal.
“So the British government need to come up to the mark on all of this. We’re looking for them to come forward with a plan, we don’t want plámas, we don’t want to be patronised.”
Adams said he is meeting Brokenshire with Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill this afternoon and will again raise the issue of a special designated status for the North when Britain leaves the European Union.
He added that his party is not yet looking beyond the three-week deadline.
Extension for talks?
Meanwhile, former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme she thinks the three-week window is too short and should be extended.
“The law at the moment requires a fresh election after three weeks if there is no coalition formed … I think it will be important for the secretary of state to have legislation ready to give the parties more time.
“I think it would be a pity if they were launched back into yet another election just after three weeks,” Villiers said.
Kenny and May
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke over phone on about the issue yesterday. Meanwhile, Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will hold talks with the parties on Wednesday.
“They discussed their shared commitment to work with the parties to move forward and create a stable administration which ensures a strong, peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland,” a spokesman for May said.
The British and Irish leaders will hold further talks on the fate of the Assembly at an EU summit on Thursday, he added.
The Taoiseach’s office said the two leaders will stay in close contact over the political situation, stressing the aim of “re-establishing a functioning executive as soon as possible”.
Contains reporting from © AFP 2017