2017 Northern Ireland Assembly Election
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2017 Northern Ireland Assembly Election

2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election
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All 90 seats to the Northern Ireland Assembly[n 1]
46 seats needed for a majority
Turnout64.78% (Increase9.8%)
  First party Second party Third party
  Arlene Foster Michelle O'Neill Colum Eastwood
Leader Arlene Foster Michelle O'Neill[n 2] Colum Eastwood
Party DUP Sinn Féin SDLP
Leader since 17 December 2015 23 January 2017 14 November 2015
Leader's seat Fermanagh and South Tyrone Mid Ulster Foyle
Last election 38 seats, 29.2% 28 seats, 24% 12 seats, 12%
Seats won 28 27 12
Seat change Decrease10 Decrease1 Steady
Popular vote 225,413 224,245 95,958
Percentage 28.1% 27.9% 11.9%
Swing Decrease1.1% Increase3.9% Decrease0.1%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
  Mike Nesbitt Naomi Long Steven Agnew
Leader Naomi Long Steven Agnew
Party UUP Alliance Green (NI)
Leader since 31 March 2012 26 October 2016 January 2011
Leader's seat Strangford Belfast East North Down
Last election 16 seats, 12.6% 8 seats, 7.7% 2 seats, 2.7%
Seats won 10 8 2
Seat change Decrease6 Steady Steady
Popular vote 103,314 72,717 18,527
Percentage 12.9% 9.1% 2.3%
Swing Increase0.3% Increase2.1% Decrease0.4%

  Seventh party Eighth party
  Jim Allister Eamonn McCann
Leader Jim Allister Eamonn McCann
Party TUV People Before Profit
Leader since 7 December 2007 N/A
Leader's seat North Antrim Foyle (Defeated)
Last election 1 seat, 3.4% 2 seats, 2.0%
Seats before 1 2
Seats won 1 1
Seat change Steady Decrease1
Popular vote 20,523 14,100
Percentage 2.6% 1.8%
Swing Decrease0.9% Decrease0.2%

Northern Ireland assembly election seats 2017.svg

First Minister and
deputy First Minister
before election

Arlene Foster (DUP) &
Martin McGuinness (SF)

First Minister and
deputy First Minister

Arlene Foster (DUP) &
Michelle O'Neill (SF)

The 2017 election to the Northern Ireland Assembly was held on 2 March 2017. The election was held to elect members (MLAs) following the resignation of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in protest over the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal. McGuinness' position was not filled, and thus by law his resignation triggered an election. It was the sixth election since the Assembly was re-established in 1998, and the first to implement a reduction in size to 90 MLAs (versus the previous 108).

1,254,709 people were registered to vote in the election (26,886 fewer, or a 2.1% decrease, compared to the 2016 Assembly election).[2] 64.78% of registered voters turned out to vote in the 2017 Assembly election, up 10 percentage points from the previous Assembly election held in 2016, but 5 percentage points less than in the first election to the Assembly held in 1998.[3]

Eight parties had MLAs in the fifth assembly: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the Greens, People Before Profit (PBP), and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). There was also one Independent Unionist MLA.

Background

Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced in 2013 that the next Assembly election would be postponed to May 2016, and would be held at fixed intervals of five years thereafter.[4] Section 7 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 specifies that elections will be held on the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year following that in which its predecessor was elected,[5] which after 2016 was to be 6 May 2021. However, by virtue of section 31(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, there are several circumstances in which the Assembly can be dissolved before the date scheduled.

Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin), the deputy First Minister, resigned on 9 January 2017 in protest at the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal (RHI) and other issues, such as the DUP's failure to support funding for inquests into killings during The Troubles and for an Irish language project. The First Minister, Arlene Foster (DUP), had been in charge of the RHI scheme in her previous ministerial position, but had refused to temporarily stand down as First Minister while an enquiry took place. Under the power-sharing arrangement, McGuinness' resignation as deputy First Minister meant that Foster automatically lost office as First Minister. The DUP condemned his resignation.

Sinn Féin had seven days, until 5 pm on 16 January 2017, in which to nominate a new deputy First Minister, but refused to do so in the Assembly plenary on 16 January.[6] As a result, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, confirmed the same day that a snap election would be held on 2 March.[7][8][9]

McGuinness subsequently announced that, owing to ill-health, he would not be seeking re-election to the Assembly; he then stepped down from leading the Sinn Féin group. He was replaced by Michelle O'Neill as leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Candidates

Nominations opened on 27 January 2017 for the assembly election and closed on 8 February 2017.[2]

A total of 228 candidates contested the 90 available seats in the Assembly, a reduction from the 276 who contested the 108 seats available in 2016.[10]

The table below lists all of the nominated candidates.[11] Candidates for the same party in a constituency are listed in alphabetical order, which is the order they appeared on the ballot paper.

  • * indicates an incumbent MLA
  • ** indicates the candidate is the incumbent MLA for a different constituency
  • ^ indicates a former MLA who was not a member at the dissolution of the 2016-17 Assembly
  • Leaders of parties represented in the assembly at dissolution are shown in bold text
Constituency DUP SF SDLP UUP Alliance TUV Green Conservative Others
Belfast East
Mairéad O'Donnell Séamas de Faoite Andy Allen* Andrew Girvin Georgina Milne Sheila Bodel
Belfast North Nichola Mallon* Robert Foster Nuala McAllister Malachai O'Hara
  • Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston (PUP)
  • Fiona Ferguson (PBP)
  • Adam Millar (Ind.)
  • Gemma Weir (WP)
Belfast South Máirtín Ó Muilleoir*
Michael Henderson
John Hiddleston Clare Bailey* George Jabbour
  • Seán Burns (CCLA)
  • Lily Kerr (WP)
  • Pádraigín Mervyn (PBP)
Belfast West Frank McCoubrey Alex Attwood* Fred Rogers Sorcha Eastwood Ellen Murray
East Antrim Margaret Anne McKillop Oliver McMullan*
Ruth Wilson Dawn Patterson Alan Dunlop
East Londonderry John Dallat^ William McCandless Chris McCaw Jordan Armstrong Anthony Flynn David Harding
Fermanagh and South Tyrone Richie McPhillips* Rosemary Barton* Noreen Campbell Alex Elliott Tanya Jones Richard Dunn Donal Ó Cófaigh (CCLA)
Foyle Gary Middleton* Julia Kee Colm Cavanagh Shannon Downey Stuart Canning
Lagan Valley Peter Doran Pat Catney Trevor Lunn* Samuel Morrison Dan Barrios-O'Neill Matthew Robinson
Mid Ulster Keith Buchanan* Patsy McGlone* Sandra Overend* Fay Watson Hannah Loughrin Stefan Taylor
  • Hugh McCloy (Ind.)
  • Hugh Scullion (WP)
Newry and Armagh William Irwin* Justin McNulty* Danny Kennedy* Jackie Coade Rowan Tunnicliffe Emmet Crossan (CISTA)
North Antrim Philip McGuigan* Connor Duncan Robin Swann* Patricia O'Lynn
Mark Bailey
  • Monica Digney (Ind.)
  • Adam McBride (Ind.)
North Down Kieran Maxwell Caoímhe McNeill
Stephen Farry* Steven Agnew* Frank Shivers
  • Chris Carter (Ind.)
  • Melanie Kennedy (Ind.)
  • Gavan Reynolds (Ind.)
South Antrim Declan Kearney* Roisin Lynch David Ford* Richard Cairns Eleanor Bailey Mark Logan
  • Ivanka Antova (PBP)
  • David McMaster (Ind.)
South Down Jim Wells*
Harold McKee* Patrick Brown Lyle Rea Hannah George Gary Hynds Patrick Clarke (Ind.)
Strangford Dermot Kennedy Joe Boyle Kellie Armstrong* Stephen Cooper Ricky Bamford Scott Benton
Upper Bann
Dolores Kelly^ Tara Doyle Roy Ferguson Simon Lee Ian Nichols Colin Craig (WP)
West Tyrone Thomas Buchanan* Daniel McCrossan* Alicia Clarke Stephen Donnelly Charlie Chittick Ciaran McClean Roger Lomas
  • Barry Brown (CISTA)
  • Corey French (Ind.)
  • Sorcha McAnespy (Ind.)
  • Roisin McMackin (Ind.)
  • Susan-Anne White (Ind.)

Gerry Mullan, who was an MLA for the SDLP before the dissolution, stood as an independent after having been deselected by the party.[12]Jonathan Bell, who was suspended from the DUP, was also standing as an independent.[13] Both failed to get elected.[14]

Members not seeking re-election

Campaign

The Renewable Heat Incentive scandal remained central in the campaign.[22] Sinn Féin said they would not return to government with the DUP while questions over RHI remain over the DUP's leader, Foster.[23] There were concerns about deteriorating cross-community relationships.[24] If the two parties emerged as the largest in their communities and could not resolve the issue, direct rule by the UK government could be imposed.

The UUP leader, Mike Nesbitt, promoted the possibility of a UUP/SDLP administration.[25] He said he would give his voting preference after the UUP candidates to the SDLP, although he said he would not tell UUP voters what to do with their later preferences.[26] Other UUP candidates opposed the action, saying they will give later preferences to other unionist candidates over the SDLP,[27] and one UUP councillor resigned from the party in protest.[28]

The DUP criticised Nesbitt's position and campaigned arguing that splitting the unionist vote could help Sinn Féin come out as the largest party.[29]

Brexit was also an issue. In the UK-wide referendum on EU membership on 23 June 2016, 56% of voters in Northern Ireland voted to "Remain" a member of the European Union while 44% voted to "Leave". The DUP supported the UK leaving the EU, while nationalist parties and most others opposed, fearing among other things the possibility of a hard border resulting with the Republic of Ireland.[22][30] It became known during the campaign that the DUP spent £282,000 on a pro-Brexit advert in a newspaper that did not appear in Northern Ireland. The money came from the Constitutional Research Council, a minor pro-union group chaired by the former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservative Party Richard Cook.[31]

The Alliance Party campaigned on their opposition to sectarianism.[23] People Before Profit focused on their opposition to austerity.

Opinion polling

Date(s)
conducted
Polling organisation/client Sample size DUP SF UUP SDLP Alliance TUV Green PBP Others Lead
2 March 2017 2017 Assembly Election Results 812,783 28.1% 27.9% 12.9% 11.9% 9.1% 2.6% 2.3% 1.8% 3.7% 0.2%
24-26 February 2017 Lucid Talk 1,580 26.3% 25.3% 13.9% 12.2% 9.5% 4.4% 3.4% 2.4% 2.7% 1.0%
26-28 January 2017 Lucid Talk 1,580 25.9% 25.1% 13.9% 12.4% 8.9% 4.3% 3.9% 2.7% 3.1% 0.8%
5 May 2016 2016 Assembly Election Results 703,744 29.2% 24.0% 12.6% 12.0% 7.0% 3.4% 2.7% 2.0% 7.1% 5.2%

Results

Overall results

Party Leader Seats Votes[42] NI Executive
Seats
Candi-
dates
Won Change
from
2016
Change
from
notional
First
Preference
votes
First
Pref. %
Change
from
2016
Seats Change
from
2016
DUP Arlene Foster 38 28 Decrease10 Decrease5 225,413 28.1% Decrease1.1% 5 Steady
Sinn Féin Michelle O'Neill 34 27 Decrease1 Increase4 224,245 27.9% Increase3.9% 4 Steady
SDLP Colum Eastwood 21 12 Steady Increase1 95,958 11.9% Decrease0.1% 1 Increase1
UUP Mike Nesbitt 24 10 Decrease6 Decrease1 103,314 12.9% Increase0.3% 1 Increase1
Alliance Naomi Long 21 8 Steady Steady 72,717 9.1% Increase2.1% 1 Increase1
Green (NI) Steven Agnew 18 2 Steady Steady 18,527 2.3% Decrease0.4%
TUV Jim Allister 14 1 Steady Steady 20,523 2.6% Decrease0.9%
People Before Profit Eamonn McCann 7 1 Decrease1 Steady 14,100 1.8% Decrease0.2%
PUP Billy Hutchinson 3 0 Steady Steady 5,590 0.7% Decrease0.2%
NI Conservatives Emma Pidding 13 0 Steady Steady 2,399 0.3% Decrease0.1%
Labour Alternative Owen McCracken 4 0 Steady Steady 2,009 0.3% Steady
UKIP None 1 0 Steady Steady 1,579 0.2% Decrease1.3%
CISTA Barry Brown 3 0 Steady Steady 1,273 0.2% Decrease0.2%
Workers' Party John Lowry 5 0 Steady Steady 1,261 0.2% Steady
Independents N/A 22 1 Steady Increase1 14,407 1.8% Decrease1.5% 0 Decrease1
Total 228 90 Decrease18 803,315 12 Increase2
Electorate: 1,254,709 Total Poll: 812,783 Turnout: 64.78% (Increase9.8%) Invalid Votes: 9,468
Map showing turnout and change in turnout from 2016.

Voting summary

First preference vote
DUP
28.1%
Sinn Féin
27.9%
UUP
12.9%
SDLP
11.9%
Alliance
9.1%
TUV
2.6%
Green (NI)
2.3%
PBPA
1.8%
Others
1.8%
Independent
1.8%

Seats summary

Assembly seats
DUP
31.1%
Sinn Féin
30.0%
SDLP
13.3%
UUP
11.1%
Alliance
8.9%
Green (NI)
2.2%
TUV
1.1%
PBPA
1.1%
Independent
1.1%

Seat changes compared to a notional result from 2016 with a 90-seat Assembly

Psephologist Nicholas Whyte estimated the likely result in the 2016 election had it been fought with 5-seat constituencies rather than six-seat constituencies. This table shows the different result, and compares the actual result in 2017 to this notional result.[43]

Party MLAs elected in 2016 Notional 2016 MLAs elected in 2017 Change from
notional 2016 result
Designation
DUP 38 33 28 Decrease 5 Unionist
Sinn Féin 28 23 27 Increase 4 Nationalist
UUP 16 11 10 Decrease 1 Unionist
SDLP 12 11 12 Increase 1 Nationalist
Alliance 8 8 8 Steady Other
Green (NI) 2 2 2 Steady Other
People Before Profit 2 1 1 Steady Other
TUV 1 1 1 Steady Unionist
Independent 1 0 1 Increase 1 Unionist
Total 108 90 90 Steady

Distribution of seats by constituency

Party affiliation of the five Assembly members returned by each constituency. The first column indicates the party of the Member of the House of Commons (MP) returned by the corresponding parliamentary constituency in the general election of 7 May 2015 (under the "first past the post" method).

(The constituencies are arranged here in rough geographical order around Lough Neagh from Antrim to Londonderry. To see them in alphabetical order, click the small square icon after "Constituency"; to restore this geographical order, click the icon at the left.)

2015 MP Constituency Candi-
dates
Total
seats
PBP
Green
Sinn
Féin
SDLP
Alli-
ance
UUP
DUP
TUV
Ind.
Seat
gained
by
Seat
formerly
held by
1 DUP North Antrim - 5 - - 1 - - 1 2 1 - - DUP
2 DUP East Antrim - 5 - - - - 1 2 2 - - UUP
SF
DUP
3 UUP South Antrim - 5 - - 1 - 1 1 2 - - - DUP
4 DUP Belfast North - 5 - - 2 1 - - 2 - - - DUP
5 SF Belfast West - 5 1 - 4 - - - - - - - SDLP
6 SDLP Belfast South - 5 - 1 1 1 1 - 1 - - - DUP
7 DUP Belfast East - 5 - - - - 2 1 2 - - - DUP
8 Ind. North Down - 5 - 1 - - 1 1 2 - - - DUP
9 DUP Strangford - 5 - - - - 1 1 3 - - - UUP
10 DUP Lagan Valley - 5 - - - 1 1 1 2 - SDLP
UUP
DUP
11 DUP Upper Bann - 5 - - 1 1 - 1 2 - - SDLP
UUP
SF
12 SDLP South Down - 5 - - 2 2 - - 1 - - - UUP
13 SF Newry and Armagh - 5 - - 3 1 - - 1 - - - UUP
14 UUP Fermanagh & South Tyrone - 5 - - 3 - - 1 1 - - SF
DUP
SDLP
15 SF West Tyrone - 5 - - 3 1 - - 1 - - - UUP
16 SF Mid Ulster - 5 - - 3 1 - - 1 - - - UUP
17 SDLP Foyle - 5 - - 2 2 - - 1 - - - PBP
18 DUP East Londonderry - 5 - - 1 1 - - 2 - 1 - DUP
18 Total - 90 1 2 27 12 8 10 28 1 1
  Change since dissolution - -18 -1 0 -1 - - -6 -10 - - - -
  Assembly at dissolution - 108 2 2 28 12 8 16 38 1 1 - -
  Change during Assembly term - - - - - - - - - - - - -
  Elected on 5 May 2011 218 108 2 2 28 12 8 16 38 1 1 - -
  Elected on 7 March 2007 256 108 - 1 28 16 7 18 36 - 1 1 Prog. U. -
  Elected on 23 November 2003 108 - - 24 18 6 27 30 - 1 1 Prog. U. 1 UKUP
  Elected on 25 June 1998 108 - - 18 24 6 28 20 - 4 2 Prog. U. 5 UKUP, 2 NIWC

Share of first-preference votes

Percentage of each constituency's first-preference votes. Four highest percentages in each constituency shaded; absolute majorities underlined. The constituencies are arranged in the geographic order described for the table above; click the icon next to "Constituency" to see them in alphabetical order.

  • [The totals given here are the sum of all valid ballots cast in each constituency, and the percentages are based on such totals. The turnout percentages in the last column, however, are based upon all ballots cast, which also include anything from twenty to a thousand invalid ballots in each constituency. The total valid ballots' percentage of the eligible electorate can correspondingly differ by 0.1% to 2% from the turnout percentage.]
2015
MP
MP's %
of 2015
vote
Constituency PBP
Green
Sinn
Féin
SDLP
Alli-
ance
UUP
DUP
TUV
Ind.
Others.
Total
votes
Eligible
elector-
ate
Turn-
out
 %
1 DUP 43.2% North Antrim 1.1 15.8 7.3 5.4 12.5 40.6 16.0 1.1 - - 63.2%
2 DUP 36.1% East Antrim 2.1 9.9 4.1 16.0 22.7 35.2 4.1 0.3 5.7 - - 60.1%
3 UUP 32.7% South Antrim 1.3 1.2 16.3 9.5 12.5 20.8 33.7 3.2 1.2 0.5 - - 62.4%
4 DUP 47.0% Belfast North 3.8 1.7 29.4 13.1 8.4 5.8 32.1 0.2 5.5 - - 61.8%
5 SF 54.2% Belfast West 14.9 0.6 61.8 8.6 1.9 1.2 10.1 1.0 - - 66.8%
6 SDLP 24.5% Belfast South 1.8 9.9 17.7 19.4 17.8 9.0 20.8 1.6 2.1 - - 64.0%
7 DUP 49.3% Belfast East 3.6 2.9 0.6 31.4 13.1 37.6 2.3 0.2 8.4 - - 63.0%
8 Ind. 49.2% North Down 13.7 1.6 1.8 18.6 21.5 37.5 3.6 1.7 - - 59.2%
9 DUP 44.4% Strangford 2.4 2.9 7.9 15.0 20.0 39.9 3.4 8.0 0.5 - - 60.9%
10 DUP 47.9% Lagan Valley 2.0 4.0 8.4 13.5 25.2 41.3 3.1 2.1 0.4 - - 62.6%
11 DUP 32.7% Upper Bann 1.1 27.8 9.9 5.3 20.6 32.8 2.0 0.6 - - 62.5%
12 SDLP 42.3% South Down 1.0 38.6 25.2 9.2 8.4 15.8 1.3 0.4 0.2 - - 66.2%
13 SF 41.1% Newry & Armagh 0.5 48.3 16.4 2.6 13.2 17.8 1.3 - - 69.4%
14 UUP 46.4% Fermanagh & S. Tyrone 1.1 42.1 9.8 2.7 11.6 29.8 1.5 1.3 - - 72.6%
15 SF 43.5% West Tyrone 0.9 48.1 14.2 2.8 8.2 20.4 1.9 2.4 0.9 - - 69.9%
16 SF 48.7% Mid Ulster 0.5 52.8 12.9 2.0 9.1 19.3 2.5 0.5 0.4 - - 72.4%
17 SDLP 47.9% Foyle 10.7 0.5 36.6 31.8 2.5 3.7 13.4 0.1 0.6 - - 65.0%
18 DUP 42.2% East Londonderry 1.2 0.7 25.8 7.9 4.4 6.7 33.5 2.5 14.6 2.6 - - 62.7%
18 Northern Ireland 1.8 2.3 27.9 11.9 9.1 12.9 28.1 2.6 1.8 1.8 812,783 1,254,709 64.8%
Change since 2016 -0.2 -0.4 +3.9 -0.1 +2.1 +0.3 -1.1 -0.9 -2.1 -1.5 +109,039 -26,886 +10.0%
Election of May 2016 2.0 2.7 24.0 12.0 7.0 12.6 29.2 3.4 3.9 3.3 703,744 1,281,595 54.9%
Election of May 2011 0.9 26.9 14.2 7.7 13.2 30.0 2.5 2.2 2.3 661,736 1,210,009 55.6%
Election of March 2007 1.7 26.2 15.2 5.2 14.9 30.1 3.8 2.8 690,313 1,107,904 62.9%
Election of Nov. 2003 0.4 23.5 17.0 3.7 22.7 25.7 5.6 2.8 692,026 1,097,526 63.1%
Election of June 1998 0.1 17.6 22.0 6.5 21.3 18.1 10.9 3.5 823,565 1,178,556 69.9%

Incumbents defeated

Aftermath

The election marked a significant shift in Northern Ireland's politics, being the first election since Ireland's partition in 1921 in which unionist parties did not win a majority of seats, and the first time that unionist and nationalist parties received equal representation in the Assembly (39 members between Sinn Féin and the SDLP, 39 members between the DUP, UUP, and TUV). However, a plurality of MLAs were unionists, as Independent MLA Claire Sugden designates as such, leaving 40 unionist MLAs and 39 nationalist MLAs. The DUP's loss of seats also prevents it from unilaterally using the petition of concern mechanism, which the party had controversially used to block measures such as the introduction of same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.[44][45]

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation, following the party's failure to make any breakthrough.[46]

Sinn Féin reiterated that it would not return to a power-sharing arrangement with the DUP without significant changes in the DUP's approach, including Foster not becoming First Minister until the RHI investigation is complete.[47] The parties had three weeks to form an administration; failing that, new elections would likely be called.

While unionism lost its overall majority in the Assembly, the result was characterised by political analyst Matthew Whiting as being more about voters seeking competent local leadership, and about the DUP having less success than Sinn Féin in motivating its traditional voter base to turn out, than about a significant move towards a united Ireland.[48]

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire gave the political parties more time to reach a coalition agreement after the 27 March deadline passed.[49] Sinn Féin called for fresh elections if agreement could not be reached.[50] Negotiations were paused over Easter, but Brokenshire threatened a new election or direct rule if no agreement could be reached by early May.[51] On 18 April, the Conservative Party Prime Minister, Theresa May, then called a snap general election for 8 June 2017. A new deadline of 29 June was then set for power-sharing talks.[52]

The 2017 UK general election saw both the DUP and Sinn Féin advance, with the UUP and SDLP losing all their MPs. The overall result saw the Conservatives losing seats, resulting in a hung parliament. May sought to continue as Prime Minister running a minority administration through seeking the support of the DUP. Various commentators suggested this raised problems for the UK government's role as a neutral arbiter in Northern Ireland, as is required under the Good Friday Agreement.[53][54][55] Talks restarted on 12 June 2017, while a Conservative-DUP agreement was announced and published on 26 June.

A new deadline was set for 29 June, but it appeared that no agreement would be reached in time, with the main sticking point over Sinn Féin's desire for an Irish language act, rejected by the DUP, while Sinn Féin rejected a hybrid act that also covers Ulster Scots.[56] The deadline passed with no resolution. Brokenshire extended the time for talks, but Sinn Féin and the DUP remained pessimistic about any quick resolution.[57]

Negotiations resumed in the autumn but failed, leaving it in the hands of the UK Parliament to pass a budget for the ongoing financial year of 2017-18. The bill, which began its passage on 13 November, would if enacted release the final 5% of Northern Ireland's block grant.[58][59][60] Talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin recommenced on 6 February 2018, only days before the mid-February deadline where, in the absence of an agreement, a regional budget would have to be imposed by Westminster.[61] Despite being attended by Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, the talks collapsed and DUP negotiator Simon Hamilton stated "significant and serious gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Féin".[62] The stalemate continued into September, at which point Northern Ireland reached 590 days without a fully functioning administration, eclipsing the record set in Belgium between April 2010 and December 2011.[63]

On 18 October the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley introduced the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill, removing the time frame of an Assembly election until 26 March 2019, which could be replaced by a later date by the Northern Ireland Secretary for once only, and during which the Northern Ireland Executive could be formed at any time, enabling civil servants to take a certain degree of departmental decisions that would be in public interest, and also allowing Ministers of the Crown to have several Northern Ireland appointments.[64][65][66] The Bill's third reading was passed in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords on 24 and 30 October respectively.[67] The Bill became the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 and came into effect after it received Royal Assent and was passed on 1 November.[68][69][70]

During a question period to the Northern Ireland Secretary on 31 October Karen Bradley announced that she would hold a meeting in Belfast the following day with the main parties regarding the implementation of the Bill (which was not an Act yet on that day) and next steps towards the restoration of the devolution and that she would fly to Dublin alongside Theresa May's de facto deputy David Lidington to hold an inter-governmental conference with the Irish Government.[71] No deal was reached at that time.

On 24 July 2019, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 further extended the deadline for formation of an executive to 13 January 2020. It also introduced measures requiring the Secretary of State to liberalize abortion law and provisionally legalize same-sex marriage. (Both marriage and health are devolved matters, but legislating on these contentious issues was hampered by the lack of a functioning legislature. In relation to abortion, Westminster had a responsibility to act as NI law had been ruled by the European Court of Human Rights to be in breach of human rights, which are a reserved matter.) Unionist MPs attempted to reconvene the Assembly on 21 October to pass legislation to defeat the measures, but no business could be conducted due to a boycott by Sinn Féin. The Act additionally formed part of the 2019 prorogation controversy by requiring the Secretary of State to make regular reports to Parliament, thus preventing prorogation.

In early January 2020, the British and Irish governments announced the text of a deal to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, and to restore devolution.[72] The Northern Ireland Executive was finally restored on 11 January 2020, with Foster returning as First Minister and Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Féin as deputy First Minister.[73]

Footnotes

  1. ^ The last election was for an Assembly with 108 seats.
  2. ^ Sinn Féin's president at the time was Gerry Adams but he was not standing in the election, Michelle O'Neill was Sinn Féin's "party leader in the North".[1]

See also

References

  1. ^ Breen, Suzanne (23 January 2017). "Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill poised to be selected as party's new leader in Northern Ireland". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Northern Ireland Assembly Election, 2 March 2017". Archived from the original on 1 February 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ "Electoral Office for Northern Ireland: Turnout Statistics" (PDF). Archived from the original on 3 March 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland Assembly elections put back to 2016". BBC News. 10 May 2013. Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  5. ^ "Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014". Legislation.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  6. ^ "Sinn Féin declines to make Stormont nomination". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 16 January 2017. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ "Martin McGuinness resigns as NI deputy first minister". BBC. 10 January 2017.
  8. ^ Connolly, Maeve. "Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigns".
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