Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland’s five main parties come together to form Executive

The Assembly members have re-entered the Assembly chamber Parliament Buildings following three years of political stalemate.

Journalists huddle around a television showing the first session of the Assembly at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as the power sharing assembly in Northern Ireland is restored.
Journalists huddle around a television showing the first session of the Assembly at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as the power sharing assembly in Northern Ireland is restored.

By David Young and Cate McCurry, PA

All five of the main parties in Northern Ireland are to come together to form the region’s new powersharing executive.

The Assembly members re-entered the devolved institutions at Parliament Buildings at lunchtime, following three years of political stalemate.

Moments before business resumed, the Ulster Unionist Party confirmed it will take up a ministry in the coalition executive while the Alliance Party said it had accepted an invite to fill the justice ministry.

They will join the DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP in the administration. It marks a significant development as the last executive prior to Stormont’s collapse in 2017 did not include the three smaller parties.

After the landmark deal to restore devolution, the Assembly has returned three years on from the acrimonious collapse of the powersharing institutions.

Powersharing returned after the DUP and Sinn Fein, the region’s two largest parties, agreed to re-enter a mandatory coalition ministerial executive.

They have both signed up to a deal, tabled by the UK and Irish governments, that offered compromise resolutions to a range of long-standing disputes on issues such as the Irish language.

Ms Foster, who has experienced a turbulent number of years at the helm of the party, is set to return as first minister.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill is likely to be her party’s nomination for deputy first minister.

bpanews_d3084b8c-86db-4ec4-a494-ee3ae12b0e84_embedded249495091
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill leads her party into the chamber at Parliament Buildings (Michael Cooper/PA)

On Saturday morning the DUP leader tweeted: “Today we will re-establish an Executive after three years of stalemate.

“It’s time to Get Northern Ireland Moving Forward Again.

“We won’t solve every problem immediately but local Ministers will get on with key reforms in schools and hospitals.”

The endorsement of the two parties was essential for the formation of an executive, as peace process structures mean an administration can only function if it includes the largest unionist party and largest nationalist party.

bpanews_d3084b8c-86db-4ec4-a494-ee3ae12b0e84_embedded249481657
DUP leader Arlene Foster is set to return as Northern Ireland’s first minister (Brian Lawless/PA)

The first item of business on Saturday was the election of a new speaker and team of deputy speakers. Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey was elected as the new speaker.

The afternoon will also see the election of the first minister, deputy first minister and the rest of the new ministerial executive.

The plenary session is scheduled to last for three-and-a-half hours.

bpanews_d3084b8c-86db-4ec4-a494-ee3ae12b0e84_embedded249464898
Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney, left, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith published the deal on Thursday night (Niall Carson/PA)

The “New Decade, New Approach” deal will also be accompanied by what the UK Government has promised will be a major investment package.

Government funding is set to help tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.

One of the most high-profile of those is an industrial dispute in the health service that has seen nurses take strike action on three occasions in the last month.

Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That row subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph