Monday 27 January 2020

Explainer: The key dates in three years of efforts to resolve impasse at Stormont

Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith, issue a statement outside Stormont Parliament buildings in Belfast, where meetings with parties involved in talks to resurrect the devolved government in Northern Ireland have been taking place. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith, issue a statement outside Stormont Parliament buildings in Belfast, where meetings with parties involved in talks to resurrect the devolved government in Northern Ireland have been taking place. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

David Young and Michael McHugh

The Stormont Assembly is on the verge of being restored, with the DUP leadership signing up to a new deal to restore power-sharing.

The Irish and UK governments last night published proposals to break the deadlock that has gripped Northern Ireland for three years.

Here is a timeline of some of the key events in the three-year Stormont impasse:

2017:

January - Stormont's Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness quits the powersharing administration in protest against DUP First Minister Arlene Foster's handling of a botched green energy scheme - the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The ministerial executive falls a week later and a snap election is called. A public inquiry is ordered into the RHI scandal.

March -Sinn Fein makes major gains in the snap Assembly election, cutting what was a 10-seat gap from the DUP to a solitary seat. The long-standing unionist majority within the Assembly goes.

Mr McGuinness dies from a rare heart condition.

A statutory deadline to form a new executive within three weeks of the election falls as the parties fail to agree a basis for re-entering government together.

April -Another deadline for agreement set by Secretary of State James Brokenshire passes without a deal.

May - Mr Brokenshire sets a third deadline for mid-May. A week later the deadline goes up in smoke when Theresa May calls a surprise snap general election. Talks are paused.

June - The DUP emerge from the election as Westminster kingmakers and agree a confidence and supply arrangement to prop up Ms May's minority government.

July - Another talks initiative fails and the process is put in cold storage over the summer parading season.

October - Talks resume but are largely confined to engagement between the two main parties. Stormont's smaller parties claim they are being kept in the dark.

Despite reports of some movement on the key stumbling blocks, a deal does not materialise.

November - Mr Brokenshire sets Stormont's 2017/18 budget at Westminster.

Gerry Adams announces he is to step down as Sinn Fein president.

The RHI inquiry commences oral hearings at Stormont.

2018:

January - Mr Brokenshire leaves the government due to ill health. Former culture secretary Karen Bradley takes over at the Northern Ireland Office, announcing a new round of all-party talks.

February - Mary Lou McDonald is formally elected the new Sinn Fein president.

Mrs May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travel to Stormont amid growing expectation a deal could be close. Their visit fails to deliver a breakthrough.

A few days later, talks break down in acrimony amid claims from Sinn Fein that the DUP had agreed a deal to return to Stormont, only to get cold feet. The DUP denies the claims.

September - Ms Bradley decides to cut Stormont Assembly members' pay from £49,500 to £35,888.

She also rules out calling an Assembly election and says she will bring forward legislation to allow civil servants to make decisions in the absence of devolution.

Stormont parties meet for the first time since the breakdown of talks in February.

2019:

April - A month of fresh talks are triggered following the dissident republican killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry when a bullet aimed at police goes astray.

June - Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley lead "intensified" talks at Stormont.

The place of the Irish language in society, same-sex marriage and abortion dominates the debate.

The DUP's confidence and supply arrangement with the British Government comes under increasing strain over Brexit and the Irish border question.

July - Amid the slow collapse of British Prime Minister Theresa May's Government, Parliament legislates to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage as part of an Executive Formation Act.

Mrs May's replacement as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, holds a private dinner with senior DUP figures and visits Stormont to meet other party leaders. A range of interest groups including Irish language activists protest outside.

December - Another general election sees the DUP lose two MPs, including former Westminster leader Nigel Dodds.

The DUP and Sinn Fein's share of the vote drops significantly compared to the 2017 general election - by 5.4pc and 6.7pc respectively - while the cross-community and anti-Brexit Alliance party enjoys a bounce in the polls.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and Mr Coveney lead renewed negotiations at Stormont.

2020:

January - Talks resume after a pause for Christmas. After a week of intensive engagements, the two governments present a suggested deal to the five parties and urge them to sign up and re-enter the executive immediately.

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