Europe

N.Ireland parties agree to form new power-sharing gov't

DUP, Sinn Fein agree on deal offered by UK and Irish governments to restore executive after 3-year-long stalemate

Ahmet Gürhan Kartal   | 10.01.2020
N.Ireland parties agree to form new power-sharing gov't A slogan by Irish nationalists for their demand "Irish language act" Belfast, Northern Ireland, one of the key points in talks for new power-sharing government (Photo by Ahmet Gurhan Kartal)

LONDON

Northern Ireland’s biggest two parties agreed Friday on a deal to form the country’s new devolved government, after the collapse of the last one three years ago. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein both said a deal offered jointly by the governments of the U.K. and Ireland was agreeable and constitutes a basis for forming a new executive.

A statue of Queen Victoria in front of Belfast City Hall

Speaking Thursday night in front of the Stormont building, Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith urged “all parties to come here tomorrow and serve the people of Northern Ireland.”

After three years of talks, he said, “finally there is good deal on the table that all parties can support.”

“On that basis I have tonight written to the speaker of this assembly and asked him to recall it tomorrow to enable the restoration of the executive before the weekend,” he added.

Appearing alongside Smith, Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also urged local parties to take this opportunity.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was not a “perfect deal” but they believe “there is a basis upon which the [Northern Ireland] assembly and executive can be re-established in a fair and balanced way.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald also said her party is now ready to enter the power-sharing government.

DUP leader Arlene Foster will lead the new devolved government as first minister, and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill will become deputy first minister under the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. 

Agreement after divisions

Since the March 2017 legislative assembly election, Irish nationalists of the Sinn Fein party and pro-British unionists under the DUP have been unable to find common ground on divisive issues such as the introduction of an Irish language act and legacy issues inherited from decades of violence popularly known as “The Troubles.”

The previous local administration collapsed in January 2017 with the resignation of Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over a botched energy saving deal. McGuinness, a former IRA leader, died shortly after and was given a state funeral.

The DUP lost support in the March 2017 election, but managed to remain the biggest party with a single-seat margin in the Northern Ireland Assembly over Sinn Fein.

But the DUP performed strongly in a U.K. general election in June 2017. In an unprecedented political move, it became a vital source of support for the U.K.’s then-Prime Minister Theresa May after she lost the majority in the House of Commons.

Talks between Northern Ireland parties have continued on and off since the January 2017 election but failed to produce any positive outcome amid Brexit uncertainties.

In the December U.K. elections, both the DUP and Sinn Fein lost political ground slightly after their votes dropped by more than 5% each but they remained the two major parties.

As uncertainties due to Brexit were greatly reduced after a landslide victory for British Conservatives in December’s election and the rapid progress on the legislation of the EU Withdrawal Agreement bill in the House of Commons, thanks to the new Tory majority, the latest development in Northern Ireland also signal a clear political future for the U.K. region.

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