The Speaker
Tuesday, 5 December 2023 – 01:35

1000 Days & Counting: Why Does Northern Ireland Have No Government?

Today marks 1000 days since Northern Ireland last had a government – yes, you read that correctly.

In Northern Ireland, the government’s power must be shared between two different political parties as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed in April 1998 to bring peace to Northern Ireland and the end of a period of conflict in the region called the Troubles. 

Conflict in Northern Ireland dates back to the 1920s when it was separated from the rest of Ireland. When this happened the population of Northern Ireland was divided – Unionists wanted the country to remain part of the UK, whereas Nationalists (sometimes also known as Republicans) wanted the country to leave the UK and rejoin the Republic of Ireland.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, power is shared in Northern Ireland between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, one representing each of the two parties in power.

Over two years ago, there was a power-sharing argument between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the two parties in power. The argument, about whether the First Minister Arlene Foster was running things badly or not, saw the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness leave his job and Sinn  Féin declined to replace him. The argument reached tipping point over a green energy scheme and disagreement over the proposed Irish Language Act has so far largely prevented a return of ministers to Stormont.

1000 days on, Northern Ireland is still without a government.

Some people have called on the UK government in Westminster to take back some decision making power from Northern Ireland, but these calls have so far been resisted. With no government ministers, only limited decisions can be made in Northern Ireland so many in the country hope that a deal can be reached soon. However, such a deal does not look like to emerge anytime soon, and things could be made worse by Brexit and the backstop issue.

To learn more about politics in Northern Ireland, check our guide here.

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