Politics

Efforts towards power-sharing in North to get under way


Work will begin on Monday morning to form a power-sharing government in the North following an Assembly election which returned Sinn Féin as the largest party.

The northern secretary, Brandon Lewis, is due to meet the leaders of the main Stormont parties later on Monday and will also speak to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney.

The Irish, British and US governments have urged the North’s political parties to re-establish a functioning Executive as soon as possible.

Northern Ireland has been without a first and deputy first minister since February’s resignation of then first minister, the DUP’s Paul Givan, as part of his party’s protest over the Northern Ireland protocol, which it opposes.

Mr Givan’s resignation meant then deputy first minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, also ceased to hold office. Other Ministers remained in their posts but with limited powers.

Sinn Féin as the largest party following the election is entitled to the post of first minister, and the DUP – which came second with 25 seats – that of deputy first minister.

Caretaker role

If, as expected, the DUP does not nominate a deputy first minister when the new Assembly meets for the first time this week, Ms O’Neill cannot sit as first minister and other ministers cannot be appointed. Outgoing ministers can sit in a caretaker role for up to 24 weeks.

“Sinn Féin will be there on Monday, ready to form an Executive,” Ms O’Neill said on Saturday. “Other parties need to do the same. No excuses. No nonsense. No time-wasting.”

Naomi Long, the leader of Alliance – which is now the third-largest party in the North – also emphasised the need to “get in there” (Stormont) and “deliver”.

The DUP wants the Northern Ireland protocol replaced and has said it will not go back into the Executive until it is resolved. “Either the secretary of state [Brandon Lewis] wants an Executive or a protocol – he can’t have both,” the DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said in media interviews on Sunday.

In a statement issued ahead of Monday’s meetings, Mr Lewis urged the parties to “fulfil their responsibilities” and form an Executive as soon as possible.

He said the issues around the protocol had to be addressed. “We want to do that by agreement with the EU,” he said, adding: “As we have always made clear, we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.”

Talks process

Mr Lewis appeared to rule out a government-led talks process, saying he would “remain in close contact with the party leaders but it is for the parties to agree on a way forward”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged the parties to “deliver on their mandate” and form an Executive, and said Dublin would work with London and the leaders of the northern parties.

The row over the protocol is viewed in Government Buildings as the main obstacle and Mr Coveney has been in touch with both lead negotiators – British foreign secretary Liz Truss and EU commissioner Maroš Sefcovic– with the aim of working “towards a basis for agreement in the coming weeks”.

He told RTÉ intensive work was needed in the coming weeks to “allow an Executive to be re-established on the basis of acceptance that both sides have worked towards maximum flexibility on the protocol” and insisted “it doesn’t need to take months and months”.

The Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland said, on Sunday night, the uncertainty and prospect of lengthy negotiations was “causing concern in the business community” and urged the formation of a “stable” Executive.




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