One year ago, the deadline passed for Sinn Féin to nominate a new deputy First Minister to avert a government collapse. Even after both UK and Northern Irish elections, the parties don’t seem that much closer to forming a new Executive.
A unique constitutional situation
A scandal about a renewable energy scheme caused the government to crumble, with Sinn Fein refusing to work with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) unless First Minister Arlene Foster stepped aside.
Under Northern Ireland’s unique constitutional position, power-sharing between the nationalist (those that favour unification with Ireland) and unionist (those that want Northern Ireland to stay in the UK) communities is mandatory for a coalition to be formed.
Multiple elections didn’t solve the issue
An election followed in March 2017 where both the DUP and Sinn Fein gained support, and again they were the only parties able to form a government. However, talks have been deadlocked for months over issues such as gay marriage and introducing an Irish language act.
The UK Parliamentary election in June 2017 highlighted even more how divided Northern Ireland is, with the DUP and Sinn Fein both gaining more seats and becoming the only parties representing Northern Ireland in the UK Parliament. The DUP now have 10 MPs, and Sinn Féin 7.
Direct rule for Northern Ireland?
The prospect of direct rule (officials in London ruling over Northern Ireland) was always considered as an option by some, and even the former First Minister has called for direct rule to be imposed if there is no progress in forming a new government.
Arlene Foster said that “the people of Northern Ireland deserve a government and if Sinn Fein continue with their intransigence then the Secretary of State should move to appoint direct rule ministers early in the new year.”