Government Will 'Strain Every Sinew' To Stop Northern Ireland Executive Collapsing Again
The secretary of state for Northern Ireland has urged political parties in Stormont to come together and stop their government falling apart again.
In an interview with PoliticsHome, Brandon Lewis warned that the people of Northern Ireland would not tolerate another election in the event of such a collapse.
Lewis is set to fly to Belfast for urgent talks with the political parties tonight as the province hurtles towards another political crisis.
Sinn Fein is currently refusing to nominate a new Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister to replace Arlene Foster after the DUP refused to reaffirm a previous commitment to implementing Irish language legislation before the next election.
Sinn Fein has asked the UK government to intervene by passing legislation in Westminster to give Irish language equal status to English in the province.
The parties have until early next week to reach an agreement otherwise Northern Ireland will once again find itself without a functioning executive and facing a snap election.
The Northern Irish executive risks collaspsing at a perlious moment for the province amid growing frustration among unionist communities with Brexit's impact on the relationship with Great Britain.
It would also leave Northern Ireland without a government as it navigates a pathway out of the coronavirus crisis. Ministers were due to meet tomorrow to sign off planned changes to lockdown measures but it is not clear whether they can be approved without an executive in place.
Speaking to PoliticsHome in Belfast on Tuesday, Lewis said the Westminster government would “strain every sinew we can” to stop Northern Ireland's government collapsing again.
The Northern Ireland executive was out of action for nearly three years up until January 2020 as a result of a row between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
“The general public here in Northern Ireland don’t want an election,” the minister said.
“They will be intolerant of the parties not working together for the best interests of Northern Ireland, particularly during a pandemic. There's no appetite for political games around nominations or an early election".Lewis warned that breakdown at the political level would likely exacerbate tensions on the ground.
Over the Easter period Northern Ireland witnessed some of its worst violence on the streets in twenty years, driven by frustration among unionist communities with Brexit, among other issues.
“If the political parties aren’t working together that gives a bad signal to residents and the minority of people who want to cause chaos,” the secretary of state told PoliticsHome.
“When we saw violence a couple of months ago, it was after we secured a joint statement from all five party leaders that things started to calm down.
"That was a really good indication of political leaders coming together in the interests of the general public having a positive impact.
“If the opposite happens, then you’ll see a negative impact," he said. "And there is always a sad minority who want to cause criminality and chaos and we shouldn’t give them the oxygen”.
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