Thursday 12 December 2019

Election looks a certainty as Stormont heads for collapse

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and DUP MLA Paul Givan. Photo: PA
Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and DUP MLA Paul Givan. Photo: PA

Michael McHugh

The Irish and British governments have conceded an election is increasingly likely as Stormont's power-sharing administration heads for collapse.

The clock is ticking on dissolution of the devolved institutions, with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire set to order a poll at the start of next week.

DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan yesterday rowed back on his decision to cut funding for Irish-language bursaries. The issue had caused a bitter row between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the axing of the £50,000 grant just two days before Christmas. Martin McGuinness cited it as one of the reasons for his retirement.

The DUP MLA took to Twitter yesterday to say he had found the money for the programme, in what is viewed as an olive branch to Sinn Féin.

He also said he was continuing to work with officials on finding a solution on the "bedroom tax" issues. The minister and Sinn Fein Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir have clashed over the implementation of measure to prevent Westminster cuts hitting Northern Ireland homes.

The original cut was not "anti-Irish" and he had just been "financially prudent", the Minister said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan visited Belfast yesterday to try to avert a snap election. "I believe an election is much closer," he said. "The secretary of state on Monday, in my view, will be left with no choice but to dissolve the Assembly and announce an election. There is a window of opportunity, albeit extremely narrow."

After meeting the parties, Mr Brokenshire said: "The reality remains, the high probability remains, that we are heading towards an election."

The DUP has called for fresh negotiations to avoid a "brutal" contest but Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness insisted the matter should be placed before the people.

A scandal over a botched green energy scheme which threatens to leave the taxpayer £490m (€560m) out of pocket precipitated the resignation of ailing deputy first minister McGuinness on Monday.

Sinn Féin Stormont minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Martin made his position very clear when he placed his resignation in the Assembly on Monday.

Mr Brokenshire said he did not want to pre-judge what the outcome of the vote might be and warned an election could be divisive.

Irish Independent

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