A significant moment for Stormont

Today’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections also have the potential to be significant. Opinion polls conducted in recent months suggest that Sinn Féin is on track to become the largest party in Stormont, giving it the right to nominate Northern Ireland’s first minister.

During the election campaign, the hardline nationalist party has sought to downplay its ambitions for a united Ireland, focusing instead on cost of living issues. In any case, first place in these elections would not necessarily advance this particular cause. Unionist votes are unusually divided, while more moderate forces like the Alliance Party are gaining support among voters. There also doesn’t appear to be a Groundswell building behind a border survey.

Yet the leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has refused to pledge to serve under a Sinn Fein First Minister. He added in a debate between leaders last night that his party would not enter a power-sharing government until the Northern Ireland Protocol was abandoned.

So far, talks with Brussels on the issue appear to be going nowhere, with the foreign secretary hoping an agreement could be reached earlier in the year, blighted by the European Union’s intransigence.

The Government could still take matters into its own hands by invoking Article 16 of the Protocol, although it now seems to prefer legislation that could allow the UK to unilaterally overrule parts of it. Whatever the solution, this unfinished business left over from Brexit cannot continue. The status quo is evidently untenable. A significant moment for Stormont

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