| 4.5°C Belfast

A brief history of Stormont suspensions


Former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson

Former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson

Former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson

If the DUP and Sinn Fein are returned as the two largest parties after an election, but their row is unresolved, it is unlikely that a new ruling Executive could be formed.

That raises the real prospect of the devolved power-sharing institutions being suspended and a return to direct rule from Westminster.

Suspension of the Assembly was an all-too familiar feature in the years after the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998:

February 2000: Secretary of State Peter Mandelson suspends the Assembly after the UUP/SDLP-led Executive fails to strike a deal on IRA decommissioning. The institutions are restored in May after the IRA pledges to "completely and verifiably" put its arsenal beyond use.

August 2001: In the absence of progress on decommissioning, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid suspends devolution for 24 hours - a manoeuvre that effectively gave the parties a six-week period to find a way forward.

September 2001: With the IRA having pledged to intensify engagement with an international panel set up to monitor decommissioning, Mr Reid triggers another technical 24-hour suspension to give the parties further breathing room.

October 2002: Sinn Fein's offices at Stormont are raided by the police as part of an investigation into an alleged IRA spy ring at the heart of Government. A major political crisis erupts and, 10 days later, Mr Reid suspends devolution and announces the return of direct rule. London-based ministers would retain control of running Executive departments until 2007 when the then DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein veteran Martin McGuinness entered power together.

Belfast Telegraph