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Power Sharing in Northern Ireland Falls Apart- Direct Rule Likely

Power sharing in Northern Ireland has collapsed, after talks to form a government fell apart. The Northern Ireland office must now determine the way ahead, and a period of direct rule is anticipated.

For the Assembly to function, there must be both a First Minister and Deputy First Minister with one nominated by the largest republican party and one by the largest unionist party. When one of these positions falls vacant, a new person must be nominated. If no one’s nominated, as happened when Martin McGuinness stood down, either new elections are called or direct rule is eventually imposed by Westminster.

The people of Northern Ireland went to the polls earlier this month after Sinn Fein failed to nominate a Deputy First Minister after McGuinness’s resignation over a failed renewable heating scheme. The DUP won the most seats in that election, but republican parties now between them have a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sinn Fein said that they would not be part of any administration in which Arlene Foster- the DUP leader- remained First Minister until an inquiry into the botched RHI scheme had been concluded. Talks extended to the scale and progress of implementation of previous points that had been agreed including on the aftermath of the Troubles and the Irish language.

Michelle O’Neil, Sinn Fein’s leader in Stormont, said that the party would not be nominating a new Deputy First Minister on Sunday. Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said that people were "living in a fool's paradise" if they thought the party would "simply walk back into the executive” without concessions. He added:

"Martin McGuinness made it very clear the difficulties that were troubling the executive and the need to get back to a new basis of genuine power-sharing and a way of doing business under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement,

He very clearly said, in one of his last interviews, we will not be going back to the way things were"

 Arlene Foster, DUP leader, has said that:

"These talks have failed because there wasn't a recognition of everyone's mandates

The government of Northern Ireland is not a game - it is very serious.

The decision of Sinn Féin not to nominate today and block the creation of a new executive is very regrettable and damaging to all the people we represent."

James Brokenshire, Northern Ireland Secretary, has contacted the Prime Minister. He may now buy some time for additional negotiations or call a new election, but it is unclear if that would lead to a different outcome. It is widely expected that, instead, this breakdown will lead to him imposing direct rule. 

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