Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris speaks during an event on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, central England, on Oct 2, 2022. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)
BELFAST – The UK government will not call fresh elections in Northern Ireland before the end of the year and will announce how it intends to proceed beyond that next week, the British minister for the region said on Friday.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since February when the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party began a boycott of the regional assembly in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since February when the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party began a boycott of the regional assembly in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The deadline passed last week for forming a power-sharing government following elections in May and Britain's minister for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris said he remained obliged under "current legislation" to call new elections within 12 weeks.
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After Northern Ireland's main political parties said they did not expect a new vote to break the stalemate, Heaton-Harris said he had listened to the "sincere concerns" across the region about the impact and cost of an election at this time.
"Next week I will make a statement in parliament to lay out my next steps," he said in a statement.
After meeting with Heaton-Harris this earlier week, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney raised the prospect of London changing the law to further delay an election.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed in the region, nationalists and unionists are obliged to share power in a cross-community government.
The assembly also failed to sit for three years between 2017 and 2020 in a similar stalemate.
Sinn Fein replaced the DUP as the region's largest party for the first time in the May elections, a symbolic breakthrough for Irish nationalism.
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The DUP has said it will not join a new government until checks introduced between some goods moving to Northern Ireland from Britain are scrapped.
Technical talks recently resumed for the first time in seven months on the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that mandated the checks and Coveney said this week that an agreement was possible by the end of the year.