New election possible in N.Ireland if stalemate continues: UK

A senior British minister suggested on Thursday that new elections might be conducted in Northern Ireland if a deadline passes without the continuation of power-sharing government in Belfast.

If there is no resolution to the parliamentary impasse brought on by a dispute over post-Brexit trading regulations, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he will “examine carefully all options.”

Before a British-Irish summit in Dublin, Heaton-Harris stated in an article for the Irish Times that “the restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland is an unequivocal priority for my government.”

He continued, “Unfortunately, I will have to do more if this impasse persists.

The pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party walked out of the devolved government in Northern Ireland, which has left the country without one for almost a year (DUP).

The DUP collapsed the power-sharing executive with pro-Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein in February 2022 because of its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The protocol, signed between London and Brussels as part of the UK’s Brexit divorce from the European Union, governs trade in the British province, and keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union.

The DUP wants the deal overhauled or scrapped entirely, arguing it casts Northern Ireland adrift from the rest of the UK and makes a united Ireland more likely.

It had been due to share power with Sinn Fein, who became the biggest party in the assembly after elections last May.

Michelle O’Neill, the first minister-elect of Sinn Fein, said at a news conference in London that the DUP was hiding behind protocol.

“I believe it has more to do with the outcome of the election in May. They probably don’t want to work with a republican first minister, she speculated.

Just over a century ago, as Ireland renounced colonial sovereignty from London and eventually became a republic, Northern Ireland was formed as a pro-UK, Protestant-majority province under British rule.


If power-sharing is not restored, Heaton-Harris is by law obliged to announce from Friday a date for a new election within the next six weeks to allow a further six weeks of campaigning.

Under current rules, this would mean an election would have to be held no later than April 13 — three days after the 25th anniversary of the 1998 agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

The UK's Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris says he will look at all options
The UK’s Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris says he will look at all options © Paul Faith / AFP

It is widely expected that the UK government will put forward new legislation to extend the cut-off point for the Belfast assembly to reform, pushing elections further into the future.

The delay is aimed at taking pressure off the UK and the EU while they negotiate to resolve differences over the protocol, which governs trade between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.

It provides for checks on goods heading to Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK.

This is because the province has an open land border with EU member Ireland — a key plank of the peace accord that ended three decades of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.

A breakthrough could see parties return to Stormont but is not guaranteed, leaving Northern Ireland without a government on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

In Washington on Wednesday, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said talks with the EU were not framed to meet the anniversary.

The institutions of the agreement should be operational as we commemorate the agreement’s 25th anniversary, according to Sinn Fein’s all-Ireland leader Mary Lou McDonald, who made the statement in London.

She underlined the view of her party that a vote on reunification of the island of Ireland is likely this decade and urged both the London and Dublin administrations to begin making preparations.

And McDonald continued, “They can’t have yesterday,” in response to what she called the DUP’s “lukewarm” ambivalence toward the Good Friday Agreement.

“The Irish triumph has been about tomorrow,”

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