Northern Ireland’s political deadlock deepened on Friday as the UK government delayed calling an early election for Belfast-based Parliament after the deadline for reinstating the mothballed government expired. term.
The limbo means uncertainty and delays in government decision-making at a time when many people in Northern Ireland are grappling with soaring food and energy prices.
The deadline for the Northern Ireland Assembly to elect a chief executive was passed at midnight on Thursday amid a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules. Under the rules of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing politics, a new election must be held within 12 weeks. Civil servants will keep essential services running in the meantime.
UK Northern Ireland minister Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to announce a mid-December poll date. Instead, he said he was holding talks with the main political parties.
“I hear when parties say they really don’t want an election at all,” he said. But he added that under political rules, he had “limited options.”
Heaton-Harris said: “I will still call an election.
“This is a really serious situation,” he added. “As of midnight last night, there are no ministers left in the Northern Ireland Executive. I will take limited but necessary steps to ensure that public services continue to function and to protect public finances, but there’s still a limit to what (I) can do.”
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly met on Thursday but failed to elect a speaker, the first step to restoring a government that has been frozen since elections in May. Efforts to nominate a speaker have been blocked by Britain’s largest trade union body, the Democratic Unionist Party, as part of a protest over post-Brexit customs checks that members see as doing weakening the British identity of Northern Ireland.
The crisis comes at a time of great change in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom with two main communities: the majority are Protestants who consider themselves British and the majority are followers of the British. Roman Catholic nationalists consider themselves Irish.
In May’s elections, the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein – the party seeking Northern Ireland’s alignment with Ireland – became the largest party in the 90-seat parliament for the first time, allowing it to assume the post. first minister position. DUP came in second.
The leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, accused the UK government of “competing a bizarre turn of events” and leaving people in limbo.
“We had a situation tonight where people didn’t know what was going to happen next,” O’Neill said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a border with a European Union member – Ireland. When Britain leaves the bloc in 2020, the two sides agree to keep the Irish border free of customs and other checks as an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that has ended decades of violence in the country. Northern Ireland.
Instead, there are checks on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK
That solution turned into a political crisis, with collectivist politicians refusing to form a government, arguing that the checks undermined their British identity. The DUP wants to scrap the Brexit protocol, but most other parties in Northern Ireland want to keep it, with adjustments to ease the burden on businesses.
So far, the UK and the European Union have held fruitless negotiations on finding a solution.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said Northern Ireland does not need a “polarizing election”.
“If the secretary of state wants to hold an election, then he should tell us and we will prepare for that election,” Donaldson said. “But if not, then let’s focus on what really needs to be done, which is to find a solution to restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.”