Protests to mark Northern Ireland breaking record for longest period without formal government

Politicians in the country 'should be embarrassed' by the situation, says SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Tuesday 28 August 2018 13:59 BST
The Stormont Estate is the site of Northern Ireland's main government buildings
The Stormont Estate is the site of Northern Ireland's main government buildings

A series of protests have been planned to mark the 589th day that Northern Ireland has been without a government.

Belfast is on the verge of overtaking Belgium for the record for the longest period without a formal government during peace time.

Several protests have been organised across the country with the creation of the “WeDeserveBetter” campaign.

The grass roots movement is calling on the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin to restore the Northern Ireland Executive.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Colum Eastwood said that politicians in the country “should be embarrassed” by the situation.

“The focus must now lie in finding a solution. The SDLP have been consistent in calling on the two governments to step up and step in,” Mr Eastwood told the Irish Times.

Both the unionists and nationalists must join together in a power sharing executive in order to lead the assembly. Since 2007, the DUP have been the largest unionist party and Sinn Féin the largest nationalist party.

With the larger mandate, the DUP have always been given the post of First Minister, while Sinn Féin have been given Deputy First Minister, but the two roles are effectively a joint office, with equal power, and can only exist with the full support of the other.

However, Northern Ireland has been run by civil servants since the power-sharing executive made up of the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed in January 2017.

The then deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, pulled Sinn Féin out of the coalition after a series of disagreements with the final straw being the DUP's handling of a scandal over the green energy scheme.

Signed off by First Minister Arlene Foster in 2012, mismanagement of the Renewable Heat Incentive cost the Northern Ireland Executive £480m. Sinn Féin called for Ms Foster to stand aside to allow for an independent inquiry into the scandal, but she refused.

Sinn Féin subsequently announced they would not be replacing Mr McGuinness, thus stripping Ms Foster of her title as First Minister and collapsing the executive.

Fresh elections were called in Northern Ireland and remarkably only 1,000 votes separated the DUP and Sinn Féin in the popular vote.

The DUP got 28 seats with Sinn Féin on 27. Crucially, it was the first time that unionists no longer held an overall majority in the Assembly.

The parties have since been in discussions about a potential deal to re-enter power-sharing at Stormont but almost 600 days later an agreement has not been reached.

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