Northern Ireland Assembly dies in wake of power-sharing – POLITICO

BELFAST – The Northern Ireland Assembly, a power-sharing experiment designed to relegate decades of bloody conflict to history, crumbled on Thursday amid deep pessimism about when it might be revived – if ever.

The Democratic Unionist Party’s refusal for the fourth consecutive time to nominate a neutral president meant that time was officially up on what had been a 48-week period to form a new unity government. The outcome, following a debate fraught with bitter recriminations, jeopardizes a key achievement of the 1998 US-brokered Good Friday Agreement, which capped a three-decade dispute over Northern Ireland. North which killed more than 3,600 people.

The pro-Brexit DUP insists it will not end its power-sharing blockade until Britain abandons EU-mandated checks on UK goods arriving at ports premises under the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. This key part of the UK’s 2019 EU withdrawal agreement was designed to avoid even more problematic checks on UK goods crossing the land border into EU member Ireland.

Again using its influence as the largest Unionist party to veto progress, the DUP ensured that the 10 remaining caretaker ministers in the Northern Ireland executive lost their jobs at midnight. Ministers from four parties – including three DUP members – issued a series of ministerial orders in their final hours in office.

From Friday, day-to-day governance in Northern Ireland will fall to unelected senior civil servants in these 10 departments, although the UK government has yet to grant them sufficient decision-making powers to manage the cost-of-living crisis. without Budget 2023 in place.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, an arch-Brexiteer appointed to Cabinet last month, insists he will call a new election in Stormont just six months after the last one – a step most local parties and seasoned observers see as unnecessarily divisive. and politically useless. Heaton-Harris is nevertheless widely expected on Friday to announce that this election will take place on December 15.

Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin Irish Republican who was supposed to become Northern Ireland’s first minister after the Assembly election in May, has condemned the obstructionist tactics of the Democratic Unionists and their leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, calling them « futile, reckless, short-sighted and foolish.

Referring to Northern Ireland’s pre-conflict past when Unionists ousted the Irish nationalist side of the community from government in Stormont, she said: “The DUP wants yesterday. It is no longer available to you.

Donaldson was not in the chamber because, just after winning an Assembly seat in May, he resigned to remain an MP in Westminster.

But the DUP’s newest premier, Paul Givan, who resigned as power-sharing leader in February amid his party’s anti-protocol campaign, has branded his own party a victim of bullying.

“Progress will not be achieved by trying to isolate, denigrate and intimidate the Democratic Unionist Party. The obstacle to devolution is not the DUP. This is Northern Ireland protocol. This will be our position after the election, regardless of the outcome,” Givan said.

Givan – who in a recent interview with POLITICO expressed hope that a rerun of the election could allow the DUP to recover the electoral ground lost in May to Sinn Féin – said an anti-protocol vote more strong in December ‘would send a clear message to the European Union. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and we will have our place in this fully respected union.

Moderate and middle leaders, whose party forebears championed historic compromises struck on Good Friday nearly a quarter of a century ago, said the DUP never really bought into that peace plan — and ultimately seemed having broken its fragile cornerstone.

Matthew O’Toole, leader of Stormont of the Social Democrat and Labor Party, one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement, told reporters that Thursday’s debate « felt like a wake-up call for power-sharing. It was depressing and shameful. »

Inside the chamber, he warned DUP lawmakers they were making « a huge strategic mistake ».

While trying to force others to ‘live amidst the ruins’ of their own ‘self-destructive impulses’, O’Toole said, Democratic Unionists were instead urging moderates on both sides of the community to envision a future in a united Ireland outside the UK and back inside the EU.

Acting Justice Minister Naomi Long, leader of the Anti-Sectarian Alliance party that made strong gains in the May election, called on Heaton-Harris to do what previous secretaries of state have repeatedly done to protect power-sharing – modify the legal framework of Stormont at the eleventh hour to avoid an immediate collapse.

« The solution to the problem, as I made clear to the Secretary of State last night, is this, » she said. « Emergency legislation in Westminster to suspend these institutions until negotiations between the EU and the UK government can be concluded, potentially within weeks. »


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