UK Secretary of State Yet to Set Stormont Assembly Election Date

4 November 2022

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton–Harris MP, has thus far declined to set a date for new Stormont elections, following the lapsing of last week’s deadline to restore the power–sharing institutions. Nevertheless, Minister of State, Steve Baker did stipulate in the House of Commons that, “in line with his legal obligation, the Secretary of State will soon confirm the date of the next Northern Ireland Assembly election as required by law. Following that election and regardless of the result, the parties do need to come together to restore the devolved institutions and lead the people of Northern Ireland through challenging times ahead.”

Amidst this uncertainty, the Conservative Northern Ireland Secretary met this week with the Stormont parties, meeting with Vice-President of Sinn Féin Michelle O’Neill, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Alliance Party Naomi Long and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Doug Beattie, to discuss issues of concern. Particularly, he expressed his concern at the state of Stormont finances, with a £661 million overspend forecast already projected halfway through the financial year, and the impact of no functioning Executive upon the people of Northern Ireland. Furthermore, Heaton–Harris stated he would take action on MLA pay should the Executive once again fail to form. 

In a further meeting this week, Mr. Heaton-Harris also met with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to discuss the political situation in the North. In the course of their discussion, Minister Coveney made clear that the Irish Government does not believe another election is the best course of action for Northern Ireland, given the impact of the cost-of-living crisis upon families and that an election was only held six months ago.

Ms. O’Neill meanwhile publicly criticised the approach of the UK Government, stating that the ongoing indecision and uncertainty only served to compound the societal instability induced by the DUP. However, Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long welcomed the reflective approach of the Northern Ireland Secretary and argued that it would be preferable to hold an election subsequent to an agreement being reached with the EU. 

Notwithstanding the possibility of an election, the DUP and UUP restated their beliefs that political resolution could and would only come after the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol are addressed. DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson unequivocally stipulated that “[t]here will be no basis for an Executive and Assembly until the Protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.” In his remarks, UUP Leader Doug Beattie dismissed an election as being the solution to the political quagmire, instead stating that ”we are now reliant here in Northern Ireland as a football between the UK and the EU, for them to come up with some sort of a deal.”