The governments of Britain, the United States and Ireland have called on rival parties in Northern Ireland to unite to restore a government that shares power after the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party won a historic victory and became the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Sinn Fein, who is seeking an alliance with Ireland, won 27 seats in the 90-seat legislature, bypassing the Democratic Unionism, which secured 25 seats. This is the first time in the history of Northern Ireland that the Irish Nationalist Party has led the vote.
But it is unclear whether Sinn Fein will head the new government because of the fragile policy of separation of powers in Northern Ireland and the long-running battle over Britain’s legacy of withdrawal from the European Union.
While Vice President Sinn Fein Michel O’Neill is now eligible for the post of Prime Minister, the current executive of Northern Ireland – or a delegated government – cannot be formed unless the largest trade union party agrees to run for deputy prime minister.
In February, Paul Givan of the DUP resigned as prime minister in protest of the post-border arrangements, the collapse of the executive branch. His party has said it will not return to the government if their demands on customs agreements are not met.
Leaders in London and Dublin have said all parties must restore the Northern Ireland government as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister of Ireland Michael Martin said on Saturday night that “now all political parties and elected representatives are obliged to fulfill their mandate.”
“The division of power and the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect underlie the Good Friday Agreement, which has ensured peace and progress for almost 25 years,” he added. “A new executive with a separation of powers is vital to progress and prosperity for all in Northern Ireland.”
In London, Northern Ireland Secretary Brendan Lewis said he would meet with party leaders on Monday to discuss how to restore the current government.
Lewis reiterated his position that the UK government would like to reach an agreement with the EU on resolving disputes over post-Brexit rules known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP is adamantly against rules that have imposed customs and border checks on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the British Union, saying the new checks have created a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that undermines their British identities.
The British Conservative government is trying to force the EU to agree to major changes, but negotiations have stalled.
“The position of the UK government is that we want to make a deal with the EU. We are talking about this very clearly, ”Lewis told the BBC on Sunday. “We have been working on it a lot for more than a year in a number of conversations. We made suggestions. The EU has not shown any flexibility. “
Deputy Prime Minister Dominique Raab said the post-Brexit problems were an “obstacle to stability” in Northern Ireland and that the London government would take “all necessary measures” to try to address them.
“It is clear from the dynamics that we now see that we will not reach such a position of stability until it is corrected,” Raab said.
U.S. Department of State spokesman Ned Price also called on Northern Ireland’s political leaders to take the necessary steps to restore the current government.
Brexit’s legacy adds an additional challenge to Northern Ireland’s policy, operating within a subtle system that divides power between Britain’s largest unionist party and Ireland’s largest nationalist party. The system was created by a peace agreement on Good Friday in 1998, which ended decades of Catholic-Protestant conflict.
If the executive branch of government fails to form within six months, new elections may take place.
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