Britain’s Secretary for Northern Ireland is due to meet the parties today and urge power-sharing

Britain’s Foreign Secretary for Northern Ireland is set to meet leaders of the North’s main parties at Stormont to urge the return of devolved government.

Stormont’s executive branch has not been fully operational since February, when First Minister Paul Givan resigned as part of the DUP’s effort to force action on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

New National Assembly elections produced a historic result over the weekend as Sinn Féin overtook the DUP to become the first nationalist or republican party to lead Stormont.

That means Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill could become the first Nationalist or Republican First Minister.

However, as the second largest party, the DUP must appoint a deputy first minister to assist it in the joint office.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has signaled the UK government must act amid concerns over post-Brexit trade deals before his party will appoint ministers for a new executive.

His party colleague Jonathan Buckley said on Sunday: “Either the secretary of state wants an executive or a protocol – he can’t have both.”

Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is due to meet the leaders of the five parties that formed the last Stormont Executive in a series of meetings today.

Ahead of the meetings, Mr Lewis acknowledged that the London Government “needed to address” issues related to the protocol. But he urged the parties to form an executive as soon as possible.

Mr Lewis will also be on the phone with Secretary of State Simon Coveney after his meetings with the parties. “The people of Northern Ireland deserve stable and accountable devolved government and I will continue to call on the leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties to assume their responsibilities and form an executive as soon as possible,” he said.

“This process must begin with the appointment of a Speaker for the Assembly so that legislation can move forward and address the important issues affecting the people of Northern Ireland.

“We need to address the outstanding issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and we intend to do so in concert with the EU, but as we have always made clear we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.

“However, the people of Northern Ireland need a stable and accountable government that delivers on the issues that are important to them. That is why we call on the parties to come together and form an executive.

“I will remain in close contact with the party leaders, but it is up to the parties to agree on a way forward.”

He added that finding a way to govern “is in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland and I call on Northern Ireland parties to work together towards a better future”.

The party leaders meet later in the afternoon in the parliament building.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the prospect of the first Nationalist First Minister at Stormont was an “almost emotional moment”.

She spoke after her party became the first nationalist or republican party to lead the Stormont poll in a historic election result.

Sinn Féin ended up 27 seats ahead of the DUP, which fell from 28 to 25 seats.

The Alliance party at the center saw their votes rise to end up as the third largest party in Stormont with 17 seats.

The new party order means that Sinn Féin can nominate the next First Minister. However, under Assembly rules, the DUP, as the next largest party, must nominate a Deputy First Minister to the joint office of Ms O’Neill of Sinn Féin in order to become First Minister.

“At partition a century ago, the northern state was created to guarantee a permanently built-in Unionist majority, to ensure that nobody like Michelle O’Neill would ever become First Secretary,” Ms McDonald told RTÉ yesterday.

“And over the weekend that glass ceiling was blown to bits.

Facing the prospect that the DUP would refuse to share power because of the protocol, she said there must be “an executive branch” to respond to the cost-of-living crisis and reform healthcare. Britain’s Secretary for Northern Ireland is due to meet the parties today and urge power-sharing

Fry Electronics Team

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