The Secretary of State for northern ireland, James Brokenshire, has given the Executive an extension of a further “few short weeks” in order to try and reach an agreement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly –N. Ireland’s devolved government— collapsed in January after a scandal came to light regarding a renewable heating scheme overseen by the First Minister Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Foster was elected First Minister in May 2016 and held her seat for just 10 months before it collapsed.

Sinn Féin had called on Foster to step down as First Minister whilst investigations into the scandal were ongoing.

Foster’s refusal to do so had prompted the late Martin McGuiness, former Sinn Féin deputy First Minister, to stand down in remonstration, although there had been speculation that his worsening health also influenced his actions.

His decision to stand down meant that the power-sharing government collapsed. Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Northern Ireland’s government has been ruled by the two majority parties, one Unionist party and one Nationalist party, as opposed to the more common one-majority party system found in most other governments. This was designed to help alleviate tensions between the two sides of the community after years of violence and political tension, often referred to as The Troubles.

Assembly Collapsed

As McGuiness has stood down as Deputy First Minister, there was no longer the required Nationalist and Unionist joint representation and the Assembly collapsed. Snap elections were held in early March that saw both Sinn Féin and the DUP return as the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland. Since the election results, both parties have been in talks with The Secretary of State, Tory party member James Brokenshire.

Both parties have blamed each other for the deadlock with Foster questioning whether Sinn Féin “were serious about reaching an agreement at this time.” See video below for full statement.

Likewise, Sinn Féin’s newly nominated leader for the Northern Ireland branch of the party, Michelle O’Neill has said: “We came at the negotiations with the right attitude, wanting to make the institutions work, wanting to deliver for all citizens. Unfortunately, the DUP maintained their position in relation to blocking equality, delivery of equality for citizens – that was the problem.”

Northern Ireland: What Happens Next?

If an agreement is still not reached by the end of the extended talks then it looks likely that there will either be another snap election or Northern Ireland will return to Direct Rule from London, meaning all governmental decisions will be made by Westminster.

Brokenshire will make a full statement on Tuesday 28th March.