The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has warned the challenges faced by Stormont “should not be underestimated” after power-sharing collapsed in the region, following an escalating political crisis. The historic announcement ends over a decade of joint rule between nationalist and unionist politicians.
Secretary James Brokenshire announced he will dissolve the parliament and has set an election date of 2 March. It is hoped fresh elections will return a new government who will be willing to move back to power-sharing, in order to revive the institutions.
Last Monday, Sinn Fein pulled out of power-sharing to protest an ongoing financial scandal in which the Democratic Unionist Party’s leader is allegedly implicated. Under power-sharing procedures at Stormont, Sinn Fein were given a seven-day period in which to return to government, however, they confirmed that they will not do so, meaning the power-sharing executive officially ended.
Sinn Fein said they have resigned to protest what they see as “arrogance” from the Democratic Unionists over how their party leader Arlene Foster, who is also Northern Ireland First Minister, has responded to allegations she was implicated in a financial scandal.
The Renewable Heat Incentive, set up in 2012 when Ms Foster was an executive minister, was designed to encourage local businesses to use renewable heat sources. However, the scheme appears to have been badly designed and actually paid businesses money to burn fuel pointlessly. It is estimated that mismanagement of the scheme will cost the taxpayer £490 million.
Ms Foster denies any wrongdoing and has resisted calls to step down. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, who is Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, resigned last Monday in protest. Under power-sharing rules, both parties must be in power at all times, for the other to remain. Mr McGuinness’ resignation therefore meant Ms Foster lost her position too.
It is the first time that power-sharing has collapsed in the region since the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 which restored institutions.
If a new government returned to Stormont after fresh elections will not engage with power-sharing, the prospect would be raised of Northern Ireland being run directly from London. However, the main nationalist opposition group, Social Democratic and Labour Party, has said they would not accept British rule as they feel Theresa May’s government no longer has any legitimacy after Brexit.
Announcing fresh elections, Mr Brokenshire said: “No one should underestimate the challenge faced to the political institutions here in Northern Ireland and what is at stake. While it is inevitable that debate during an election period will be intense, I would strongly encourage the political parties to conduct this election with a view to the future of Northern Ireland and re-establishing a partnership government at the earliest opportunity after the poll.”
He added that Ms May is determined the political crisis will not be allowed to derail or delay her plans to trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism by which the UK could begin to leave the EU. He told local politicians the Conservatives remain committed to triggering the clause by the end of March.
UK news in pictures
UK news in pictures
1/18 23 June 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses a news conference at the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 23, 2017
2/18 22 June 2017
Cosplay fans (L-R) George Massingham, Abbey Forbes and Karolina Goralik travel by tube dressed in Harry Potter themed costumes, after a visit to one the literary franchise's movie filming locations at Leadenhall Market in London, Britain
3/18 22 June 2017
Racegoers cheer on their horse on Ladies Day at the Royal Ascot horse racing meet, in Ascot, west of London
4/18 21 June 2017
A reveller walks among the tipi tents at the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England
5/18 20 June 2017
A police officer lays some flowers passed over by a member of the public, close to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, after one man died and eight people were taken to hospital and a person arrested after a rental van struck pedestrian
The Borough Market bell is seen in Borough Market in central London following its re-opening after the June 3 terror attack
Two women embrace in Borough Market, which officially re-opens today following the recent attack, in central London
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attends the re-opening of Borough market in central London following the June 3 terror attack
People walk through Borough Market in central London following its re-opening after the June 3 terror attack
News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, with one of his daughters, visit Borough Market, which officially re-opened today following the recent attack
A woman reacts in front of a wall of messages in Borough Market, which officially re-opened today following the recent attack, in central London
Vivenne Westwood walks the runway at the Vivenne Westwood show during the London Fashion Week Men's June 2017 collections
Millwall fan and London Bridge hero Roy Larner on 'Good Morning Britain'
Richard Arnold, Roy Larner, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on 'Good Morning Britain'
15/18 11 June 2017
England players celebrate after defeating Venezuela 1-0 to win the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea 2017 at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, South Korea
16/18 11 June 2017
England players celebrate with the trophy after the final match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2017 between Venezuela and England at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, South Korea
17/18 11 June 2017
Great Britain's Alistair Brownlee celebrates winning the Elite Men Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds
Danny Lawson/PA Wire
18/18 11 June 2017
Two men drink beer outside the Southwark Tavern which reopened for business today next to an entrance to Borough Market which remains closed in London
Leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, told The Independent the Prime Minister could face a legal challenge if she attempts to enact Brexit while Stormont is collapsed, as it would mean Northern Irish politicians would have no say in EU withdrawal negotiations.
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- Northern Ireland
- Arlene Foster
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