Northern Ireland is a 'priority issue' for US says expert
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Northern Ireland Assembly members returned to Stormont today in a last-ditch attempt to restore the country’s executive in order to avert an election. But the DUP continues to refuse to restore power-sharing with Sinn Fein in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Today’s sitting at Stormont saw it attempt to elect a new speaker, which is a prerequisite before an executive can be appointed.
But the DUP used its veto to block the development.
If they do not form an administration by midnight tonight, the UK Government will be forced to call another election.
But speaking from Stormont today, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed the DUP would hold their position, saying: “We do not believe that sufficient progress has been made to addressing the issues of concern to the people that we represent.
“We were given a clear mandate in the assembly elections, and we would not nominate ministers to an executive until decisive action is taken on the protocol to remove the barriers to trade within our own country and to restore our place within the United Kingdom internal market.”
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is speaking to European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic today to discuss negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol, as tensions in Northern Ireland continue to simmer.
Technical discussions on how to fix problems with Northern Ireland Protocol are expected to continue even in the event of fresh elections.
This is a change from earlier this year, when discussions were paused ahead of May’s elections.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Assembly members are currently meeting at Stormont with Sinn Féin, which won the largest number of seats in the last assembly election in May.
The party has called for the DUP to end its protest but the DUP has refused, describing the assembly meeting as a “flawed and failed attempt” to restore power-sharing.
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged the DUP to return to Stormont, with his official spokesperson saying “the people of Northern Ireland deserve a fully functioning and locally elected executive which can respond to the issues facing the communities there”.
If tonight’s deadline passes – which marks six months since the elections – then Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris must call an assembly election to be held within 12 weeks.
As the deadline fast approaches, Mr Heaton-Harris warned that “time is running out”.
He added: “People in Northern Ireland deserve locally elected decision-makers and an executive who can respond to the issues facing people, families and communities across Northern Ireland during this challenging time.
“We are clear that people deserve an accountable devolved government and that was my message to party leaders today.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said the “clock is ticking” for a solution to be found.
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