Northern Ireland Assembly Q&A: what happens next?
Posted By: January 13, 2017
Dreading another election? Just be thankful if it is just one more this year
Gerry Moriarty. Irish Times. Dublin.Thursday, January 12, 2017
This is a time when a strong political voice should be heard from Stormont to try to ensure a favorable Brexit deal for the North. Instead, it seems the voices will be of electoral squabbling
Would Assembly elections purge the current political poison?
Almost certainly not. Sinn Féin has insisted that the issue has gone way beyond the botched “cash-for-ash” renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme which, because of a lack of cost controls, could cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer up to £490 million over the next 20 years. There is no going back to the status quo, according to Martin McGuinness, whose resignation as Deputy First Minister effectively collapsed the Northern Executive. Sinn Féin now has a shopping list of other issues it wants delivery on. This includes the Irish language, getting a Troubles interpretative center at the old Maze prison site, dealing with the past, same-sex marriage, and persuading the DUP to “show respect” to Sinn Féin.
So, after an election would the Northern Executive and Assembly automatically return?
Again, almost certainly not. Under legislation, after the election, there are seven days to form a new Northern Assembly, and there are a further seven days for a First Minister and Deputy First Minister to be appointed. Judging by Sinn Féin’s current stance, that won’t happen. In such a case the Northern Secretary James Brokenshire should call fresh elections.
More elections, the third in a year, surely not?
The frequently asked question would arise: elections to what? It’s difficult to predict how RHI will affect the DUP vote, but the expectation is that once again the DUP and Sinn Féin will emerge as the biggest and second biggest parties. We would be back to stalemate unless Sinn Féin moderated its position and allowed its shopping list to be addressed within the context of a functioning Executive and Assembly. But again, taking Sinn Féin at its current word, that could not happen. Therefore Brokenshire could decide to bypass the necessity for a second round of elections and introduce emergency legislation, as he can do, to suspend Stormont. This would be to allow negotiations to address the Sinn Féin matters and almost certainly additional issues raised by the DUP and other Stormont parties.