Northern Ireland braces for Assembly election as deadline passes

Fall weather October 25, 2022

Northern Ireland is on track for an Assembly election before Christmas as the deadline to restore devolved government to Stormont has passed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is set to call the election on Friday after a last-ditch effort to restore the multi-party executive failed.

The DUP is blocking the restoration of power sharing as part of its protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.

A six-month legislative deadline to form an administration expired in the early hours of Friday.

With no ministerial executive in place, the UK government bears the legal responsibility to call new elections.

Rishi Sunak becomes the new Prime Minister
Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to announce new Assembly elections on Friday (Victoria Jones/PA)

Although Mr Heaton-Harris has yet to give details, there has been speculation the poll will take place on December 15.

Stormont ministers, who have been operating in the shadows since the Assembly collapsed earlier this year, also stepped down from office at midnight.

Responsibility for the management of decentralized services will henceforth be entrusted to senior civil servants.

MPs gathered in a recalled sitting of the Assembly on Thursday, but a bid to elect a new president – which must be made before the election of first and deputy first ministers – did not go down. took place because the DUP refused to support the nominations.

The meeting was then suspended.

The DUP’s boycott of the Stormont institution is part of a campaign to oppose protocol, and the party says it will not return to power-sharing until decisive action is taken to remove barriers economic benefits to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The government is committed to securing changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed national legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower ministers to abandon the arrangements without Brussels’ approval.

Power sharing in Ulster
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has said his party will not return to Stormont until its concerns over NI protocol are addressed (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said insufficient progress had been made to address the concerning issues with the protocol.

But Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the DUP ‘has left us all at the mercy of a heartless and dysfunctional Tory government’.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also urged the DUP to return to Stormont just hours before the deadline to restore devolution expires.

Its official spokesperson said: ‘There is still time for the DUP and the leadership to return to Stormont and we urge them to do so because the people of Northern Ireland deserve a fully functioning, locally elected executive who can respond to the issues facing the communities there. .”

2022 NI Assembly Election
Sinn Fein became Stormont’s largest party after previous Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May (Liam McBurney/PA)

The last Northern Ireland Assembly election was in May this year and Sinn Fein became the largest party for the first time.

Meanwhile, the UK government has insisted that in the absence of the Stormont executive, a joint authority agreement with Dublin for the governance of Northern Ireland is “not under consideration”.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin and Ms O’Neill have said there can be no direct government from Westminster if power-sharing is not restored.

But an NIO spokesperson said: ‘The UK government is absolutely clear that the principle of consent governs Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

“We will not accept any arrangement inconsistent with this principle.”