BREAKING NEWS

It's a 1,000 days since Northern Ireland last had a government

 Comments
Parliament buildings known as Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Parliament buildings known as Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK -
Copyright
Reuters
Euronews logo
Text size Aa Aa

It has now been 1,000 days since Northern Ireland had a government.

The power-sharing assembly collapsed in January 2017, when deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, from the nationalist Sein Fein party, resigned over the handling of a flawed green energy scheme by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Read more: How to make millions heating empty sheds

At a pivotal moment in the country’s history, with Brexit set to potentially change the flow of goods on the island of Ireland, there is no government in place in the North.

If the stalemate continues in Belfast — and people expect that it will — Westminster is set to extend same-sex marriage and decriminalise abortion, starting on October 21.

Northern Ireland has surpassed other power-sharing governments, such as Belgium which in 2010 and 2011 went 589 days without a government.

Euronews takes a look at the governing situation in Northern Ireland or lack thereof.

How does Northern Ireland’s government function?

The government in Belfast was designed as a power-sharing assembly by the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed in 1998 to end a thirty-year sectarian conflict in Ireland known as The Troubles.

The power-sharing or devolved government was put into place to diminish sectarian divides and splits the executive between the unionists and nationalists.

The Northern Ireland assembly is elected every four years and appoints a first minister and deputy first minister, equal and joint heads of the Executive.

How did the government in Northern Ireland collapse?

The Northern Irish government collapsed on January 16th, 2017 after the country’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned, citing disagreements with the opposition party, the DUP.

The disagreements stemmed in part from an energy scandal in which a scheme to encourage the use of renewable energies backfired because it was designed without cost controls.

This meant that there was no cap on how much someone could profit from the programme, which made burning wood pellets profitable and resulted in a large burden on taxpayers. It became known as the cash for ash scandal.

“The litany of incompetence and irresponsibility at political and official level disclosed to date in the inquiry into the cash for ash scandal in Northern Ireland is breathtaking,” the Irish Times wrote in an editorial about the scandal in 2018.

First Minister Arlene Foster, from the DUP, had been in charge of the department that developed the programme but she refused to resign her government post when the scandal emerged.

Instead, McGuinness quit, writing in his resignation letter that the minister responsible for the renewable energy scheme had “no place” in the executive.

But, he added, throughout his ten years in office, he had several disagreements with the DUP.

“Apart from the negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture, there has been a shameful disrespect towards many other sections of our community. Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities have all felt this prejudice. And for those who wish to live their lives through the medium of Irish, elements in the DUP have exhibited the most crude and crass bigotry,” McGuinness wrote in the letter.

Sinn Féin, McGuinness' nationalist party that shared power with the DUP, refused to appoint another minister, resulting in an election. But after the election, the parties still failed to come to an agreement on a number of issues including the restoration of the Irish language as the spoken language in Northern Ireland.

"If some of the difficult issues are out of the way there might be Irish language Act to return to the table," Dr Elodie Fabre, a politics lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, told Euronews.

Read more about the collapse of Northern Ireland’s government here.

A partially open government

Attempts to bridge the gap between the DUP and Sinn Féin have failed, and 1,000 days on, many do not see anything changing anytime soon.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is still open and members receive partial pay. Member salaries were £49,000 (€56,225) in April 2016, but are now £35,888 (€41,180).

In the time since the government has been collapsed, Northern Ireland has spent more than £10 million (€11.5 million) on member salaries.

But the government is partially run by the UK's parliament in Westminster, which has voted to pass a budget in Northern Ireland. This makes it different from other European countries which have gone months without a government.

The UK government also passed a law in July that states that provided there is still no government in Northern Ireland come October 21st, same-sex marriage will be legalised and abortion will be decriminalised. DUP and Sinn Féin had disagreed on both topics.

Government divisions were highlighted by the murder of journalist Lyra McKee by the paramilitary group called the "New IRA" in Creggan, Derry in March. In August, a police chief said that deadlock in Stormont is enabling terrorism after a bomb attack in County Fermanagh near the border with the Republic of Ireland.

How has this impacted Brexit?

Theresa May signed a deal with the DUP in 2017 as the Conservatives did not have a parliamentary majority.

“This lack of parliamentary majority forced the Conservative Party to really follow what the DUP was saying which provided them with a veto,” said Fabre.

The DUP has vehemently opposed the Irish backstop, a sort of insurance policy designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But the government situation is also likely to be affected by Brexit down the road.

“If there is a Brexit deal and there is no return of the institutions, it is quite likely that we will end up in a situation of direct rule [from London], because so much legislation needs to be passed in relation to Brexit in all sorts of policy areas, that direct rule would make sense,” Fabre said.

Read more:

Brexit Guide: Where are we now?

Brexit: what is the Irish backstop and why does Boris Johnson want it ditched?

Want more news?

Euronews is no longer accessible on Internet Explorer. This browser is not updated by Microsoft and does not support the last technical evolutions. We encourage you to use another browser, such as Edge, Safari, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.