The formation of a new executive at the Northern Ireland assembly could take up to six months, under laws designed to keep Stormont functioning in the event of another Brexit crisis.
However, there could be another election in early winter after the DUP made it clear after Friday’s election results that it would not return to the executive branch without changes to Northern Ireland’s protocol, even if the final outcome puts her at the top of the list. would post polls.
Changes made to Northern Ireland’s law in February this year are intended to prevent the assembly from collapsing, such as in 2017 following a split between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party. They give elected representatives up to four six-week windows, 24 weeks in total, to elect an executive, who sits at the top of the assembly as the cabinet.
Senior sources at the DUP say it cannot re-enter Stormont while goods in the Irish Sea are still being checked, and Boris Johnson must realize how much damage it says it is doing to the Good Friday Agreement.
What happens now?
The assembly must meet within eight days of the election. Expect it to sit Tuesday or Thursday next week.
The 90 elected members must then sign the register and declare whether they are unionists, nationalists or “others” under the existing power-sharing system.
Unlike Scotland or Wales or the UK national government – where the largest party can form a government – the Northern Ireland Assembly requires a coalition of the two largest parties of different designations to form the devolved government.
It is known as a “cosocial” political system designed for countries with deep internal divisions.
How is the next phase organised?
The party with the largest number of seats must nominate a Prime Minister (FM) and the second largest party a Deputy Prime Minister (DFM). The posts are equal, despite the connotations of rank.
In the event of a tie in the number of seats obtained, the Prime Minister’s post goes to the party with the most first preference votes.
Still room for horse trading?
Yes. Elected members may switch sides until the date of signature of the register. Watch as the DUP or Sinn Féin try to lure independents into their camp when there is only one or two chairs between them.
What happens then?
Once an FM and DFM are nominated, ministers are appointed through the so-called d’Hondt formula, which allocates the department based on each party’s relative weight in the election.
The Minister of Justice is an exception and must be appointed with community support.
The executive branch then prepares a program for the government and an associated budget, which must be approved by the assembly of elected members.
How long do they have?
Initially, the parties have six weeks from the day the assembly first meets to fill the ministerial posts.
What happens if a party decides not to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister?
Another crisis will follow, but a partial executive could be limping for up to 24 weeks.
Initially, the members have six weeks to form a board. The new Northern Ireland (Ministers in Departments, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Act 2022 allows three consecutive six-week extensions of that deadline.
The DUP has refused to make a commitment that it would nominate a deputy prime minister if it came in second. It has also indicated that it will not return to an executive branch without the lifting of border controls on the Irish Sea.
But aren’t there any laws to make Stormont function?
Stormont collapsed in 2017 and power-sharing only resumed for three years. But that’s not possible this time.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith, who led the New Decade New Approach deal, also paved the way for the new laws to ensure parties continue to rule despite their differences.
Can decisions be made if there is no Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister?
Other ministers may be appointed, but their powers will be limited.
Lisa Whitten, a research fellow at Queen’s University and a UK member of a change think tank in Europe, said the amended law “provides a safety net” as “existing policies can continue” but warned that as new decisions “on critical issues such as if a budget or health reforms” cannot be implemented, “there is still plenty of room for stagnation”.
What happens if there is no fully functioning supervisor after 24 weeks?
The ministers would lose their office and the Northern Ireland secretary would be required by law under Northern Ireland law to set a date for a second election. That election must take place within 12 weeks of that announcement.