Northern Ireland revives power-sharing talks after UK vote

2019-12-16 09:44
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) pulls a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham on December 14, 2019  (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) pulls a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham on December 14, 2019 (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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Northern Ireland's faltering efforts to resurrect its collapsed government resume Monday following a general election in Britain that might give rival parties a new incentive to agree.

The politically and socially volatile region's devolved assembly at Stormont has been without a government since January 2017.

The power-sharing executive between the Irish republican Sinn Fein party and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) crumbled in the wake of a scandal over misspending.

Numerous rounds of talks aimed at filling the power vacuum failed in increasingly acrimonious talks between the two largest parties of the British province.

The process was complicated when an election in 2017 stripped then-prime minister Theresa May of her majority and thrust the DUP into a working alliance with the British government.

The DUP turned into a kingmaker and wielded an outsized influence in London during intense Brexit negotiations that had wider implications for the European Union.

But the party lost that role when a general election Thursday gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson a massive majority in the UK parliament.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said she hoped the DUP will now refocus its attention on Northern Irish politics.

"The only positive from Boris Johnson's definitive majority is the possibility -- and I hope the probability -- that the DUP will disengage themselves from their fixation with the melodrama in Westminster, and bring their attention back home again," she told Ireland's RTE broadcaster.

'New arithmetic'

Some analysts agreed that Thursday's election outcome could alter the power dynamic in the negotiations that result in the new government being formed.

"The new arithmetic at Westminster will give the DUP much greater incentive to reach a deal with Sinn Fein," Queen's University Belfast politics lecturer Jamie Pow told AFP.

"If it wants to remain relevant, it will need to show voters that it can deliver."

The DUP lost two MPs in the latest ballot, including its parliamentary party leader Nigel Dodds.

Sinn Fein takes part in British elections but does not send its deputies to the House of Commons because it does not recognise its rule.

But both parties reduced their overall vote-share as more moderate movements surged in the centre-ground -- an apparent response to frustrations over stalling Stormont talks.

The stare-down between the two main parties may begin to waver as they grow wary of sustaining losses in a looming regional election.

Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has promised to call a poll if the executive is not restored by January 13.

"To those who felt unable to support us yesterday, we're listening," DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted after Thursday's vote.

"I know you want to get Northern Ireland moving again and have an Assembly to fix our schools and hospitals. I will be at the talks on Monday."

Read more on:    england  |  northern ireland  |  united kingdom  |  brexit
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