Northern Ireland heading for fresh devolved elections if power-sharing not restored by next Friday
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said he will call an election if the Stormont Executive is not restored by next Friday.
Chris Heaton-Harris said that under current legislation he had to call a fresh election if the executive has not been reformed by October 28.
He told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on that he “can’t see the space” for any emergency legislation to potentially avert the move.
Sinn Fein became the largest party at the election but Vice-President Michelle O’Neill has not been able to take up the post of First Minister until the executive is restored.
Devolution in Belfast has been in flux since February when the DUP effectively caused paralysis at Stormont by withdrawing its first minister Paul Givan from the governing executive in protest at the economic border created in the Irish Sea by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
The party has vetoed several attempts to resuscitate the powersharing institutions following May’s election.
Appearing at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Heaton-Harris said he had discussed the ongoing paralysis at Stormont with his Cabinet colleagues earlier that day.
“If we do not get a reformed executive by one minute past midnight on the 28th of October, I will be calling an election, that’s what the law requires me to do, and that is what I will be doing,” he told MPs.
“I know that lots of people really do not see or do not want that to happen but it is a legislative requirement.”
He said he “can’t see the space” for any emergency legislation.
He added: “The best solution would be having an executive up and running, without a shadow of a doubt.
“If we come back and people choose not to go into positions … actually I think almost immediately the ministers fall away and it gives me a few tough decisions to make which I’d much rather not be taking but I’m fully cognisant of some of the issues that I’ve been reading about in the newspapers, being told about by real folk in real streets on real doorsteps that they’re facing.
“Lots of things would be a lot easier if the executive were running and so my focus is trying to charm, beguile, coax everybody into that place, that they come back into the executive, and I’d like to think I will be successful, but if I’m not then I’m afraid it is an election.”
Meanwhile, the Alliance Party has submitted an Assembly recall petition in a bid to get the executive reformed by the end of next week.
Leader Naomi Long said the result of the last election in May “must be respected” and the Assembly restored on a sustainable basis.
The PA news agency understands that the Alliance petition had 17 signatures on Tuesday afternoon, and required another 13.
Naomi Long said the current saga of ransom politics had come at the worst possible time for people.
“We are in an unprecedented period of uncertainty between Parliament and the Assembly,” she said.
“As things stand, next week the caretaker ministers are removed from office and departments are left without direction at a time when Westminster is in chaos.
“In that context, and considering the cost of living and cost of business crisis, it is reckless and irresponsible in the extreme to allow the institutions to drift into deeper crisis, dragging in its wake our public finances and public services.
“Engaging in ransom politics at this time is completely scandalous.
“Whilst the Assembly and Executive can’t solve all of those problems, some of which are national or global, it is the difference between being able to do something as opposed to nothing to help those in need.
“Neither is this the first time that such a suspension of our institutions.
“Over the last 25 years we have been increasingly locked into a cycle of crisis and collapse.
“It is therefore clear as we rapidly approach next week’s deadline, we cannot simply place a sticking plaster over the gaping wounds inflicted on our institutions and hope for the best.
“The focus on a negotiated outcome on the Protocol, which is welcome, cannot be allowed to eclipse the urgency of restoring the executive and doing so on a sustainable basis to end the cycle of dysfunction.
“Democracy has been repeatedly subverted by single parties, we must ensure when the institutions return, no-one is able to do that again.
“Ransom politics needs to end for good.”
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