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Northern Ireland holds election with power-sharing agreement at risk

March 2, 2017 - UNITED KINGDOM

The Northern Ireland Assembly election is expected to return the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein as the two biggest parties, but possibly not as the power-sharing government required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

A total of 228 people will battle it out for 90 seats - down from 108 - split across 18 constituencies.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister in the DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition, resigned on Jan 9 because of differences between the two parties over a clean energy scheme that went wrong and other issues. His resignation automatically removed Arlene Foster of the DUP from her position as First Minister and triggered the new election, the second in eight months.

On Jan 19 McGuinness made news again by announcing he had quit politics because of ill health. The new party leaders will have the task of trying to mend fences to restore power sharing. Under the terms of the Agreement, the First and deputy First Ministers, one unionist and one nationalist, have equal powers. One cannot be in position without the other. The multi-party executive is made up of both unionist and nationalist parties.

The DUP has refused to give way on an inquiry into the clean energy scheme and insists, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper, that the structures of mandatory coalition power-sharing need to be reviewed before another executive is formed.

The Good Friday Agreement brought to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland government web

Good Friday Agreement (BBC)

Election looms for Northern Ireland amid Stormont deadlock (Guardian 16 Jan 2017)