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    Last Ditch Talks Resume as Northern Ireland Poised for Political Paralysis

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    Northern Ireland's main political parties, April 3, resume talks aimed at securing agreement on the formation of a new Executive, following the March 2 election triggered by the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister.

    Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Northern Ireland meet, April 3, at Stormont to try to thrash out a political consensus to form an Executive, despite three weeks of talks which failed to reach agreement.

    A picture shows the Parliament Buildings, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, on the Stormont Estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 4, 2017
    © AFP 2019 / Paul FAITH
    A picture shows the Parliament Buildings, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, on the Stormont Estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 4, 2017

    The Northern Ireland Executive — the devolved government of the province — has to be made up by a coalition of political parties — the two largest of which are the nationalist Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

    ​Following the elections, May 2016, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein won the most seats, with the DUP winning 38 and Sinn Fein winning 28 of the available 108 seats. The DUP nominated Arlene Foster as First Minister and Sinn Fein nominated former IRA paramilitary commander Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister.

    However, McGuinness resigned, January 9, over a row between the two parties over a botched green energy scheme originally overseen by Foster, which was supposed to incentivize people to switch to renewable, but which ended in farce when the scheme paid out more than the cost of the fuel, leaving taxpayers with a bill of up to US$486 million.

    The green energy scheme — called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) — has become known as the "Cash for Ash" scandal. It was set up by Arlene Foster when she was minister for enterprise, trade and Investment, but ran into trouble after a lack of controls allowed the scheme to be abused to the tune of millions of dollars.

    Direct Rule?

    In the ensuing election, March 2, the DUP lost its long term majority and all parties are now deadlocked. The March deadline for agreement to be reached passed, which legally meant another election had to be called or "direct rule" be imposed from London.

    Direct rule is not favored by the British Government, as it would resurrect old hostilities and threaten to tear apart the delicately held Northern Ireland peace agreement.

    "The people of Northern Ireland do not want a return to direct rule and they don't want another election, and that is what we are looking at if we are unsuccessful," said the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson.

    ​"It is time to see real delivery and we need to see the Irish Government step up to the plate and we need to see the British Government end its pandering to the DUP and fulfil its responsibilities to oversee the delivery of agreements previously made," said Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill.

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    Tags:
    Northern Ireland Executive, snap election, peace agreement, Ireland, nationalists, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, Arlene Foster, Martin McGuinness, Europe, Britain, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
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