Britain’s Northern Ireland to hold snap election after government collapses

January 17, 2017 7:00 pm

British Northern Secretary James Brokenshire calls for fresh assembly elections on March 2 in Belfast on January 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister calls an early election for March 2 following the collapse of the region’s power-sharing government.
James Brokenshire announced the province’s assembly would dissolve on January 26 and urged its feuding parties to mend fences.
“I propose… to set an election date of Thursday, March 2,” he said in Belfast as he called on Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to re-install a partnership government at the earliest opportunity.

Northern Ireland’s former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness (3rd L) leaves the assembly chamber in Belfast on January 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The announcement of the snap vote came after Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness from Sinn Fein stepped down last week over a row with First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster.
McGuinness accused Foster, who is also leader of DUP, of bungling a costly green energy scheme which is speculated to cost the region of barely 1.8 million residents some $600 million in ill-regulated and open-ended subsidies.
He had urged Foster to resign temporarily and voluntarily so that a probe could be launched into the controversial case but she repeatedly refused to step down.
Foster said on Monday that Sinn Fein leaders “have forced an election that risks Northern Ireland’s future and its stability, and suits nobody apart from themselves.”

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster speaks to members of the media in the Great Hall at Stormont before the start of the assembly in Belfast on January 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The two positions enjoy the same amount of administrative power and despite the name, the deputy first minister is not secondary to the first minister.
The alliance between the two radically different parties has long been seen as hanging in the balance. Nationalists want to break away from Britain and reunite with Ireland, but Unionists want to remain as part of the United Kingdom.
If the snap election cannot near the pair leading to form yet another unity government, the province could end up being governed from London, terminating over a decade of joint rule between nationalist and unionist parties. The last period of direct rule ended in 2007.
Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive and assembly were formed under the 1998 Belfast Agreement that effectively ended three decades of political violence in Northern Ireland.
If the two biggest parties are returned as expected but the deadlock remains within three weeks of the vote, then a second election could be called.
In last year’s Brexit referendum, 56 percent of Northern Ireland voters favored staying in the European Union compared to the UK-wide result of 52 percent choosing to leave.
The DUP was the only one of Northern Ireland’s main four political parties that called for the UK to leave the bloc.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she plans to launch the EU exit procedure by the end of March.
Brokenshire insisted that the snap elections would not have an impact on the timing of Britain launching the Article 50 departure process.
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