DUP-Sinn Féin have seven days to name top ministers to avert crisis

New first and deputy first minister must be nominated or election could be called

Under Stormont rules, once Arlene  Foster (right) ceased to hold office, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill is also no longer in her post. Photograph:  Carl Court/Getty

Under Stormont rules, once Arlene Foster (right) ceased to hold office, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill is also no longer in her post. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty

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The DUP and Sinn Féin have seven days to nominate a first and deputy first minister in order to avert a political crisis at Stormont.

The countdown was triggered on Monday when the former DUP leader Arlene Foster resigned as Northern Ireland’s first minister.

She stepped down amid an increasingly sharp disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the timescale for the implementation of Irish language legislation which could threaten the North’s power-sharing institutions.

Under Stormont rules governing the joint office, once Ms Foster ceased to hold office, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill is also no longer in her post.

The parties have until 1pm on June 21st to fill the vacancies otherwise an Executive cannot be formed and it will fall to the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, to call an election.

The DUP is to nominate the Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan as first minister, but Sinn Féin could refuse to re-nominate Ms O’Neill as deputy first minister unless it receives assurances over the implementation of the Irish language legislation, one of the measures agreed in the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored Stormont in 2020.

The North’s Minister for Finance, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, has called for intervention by the Irish and British governments, saying his party had told them they had “run out of road” and the DUP was “clearly not going to” bring forward the legislation in a timely fashion.

He accused the DUP of being “disingenuous”, saying the party had said “in public that they intend to do these at all haste and to expedite these matters when clearly they’re telling us in private that they have no intention of doing that”.

In the Assembly on Monday, DUP leader Edwin Poots criticised Sinn Féin’s stance, saying “we cannot be in a circumstance where we have pre-conditions set for the selection of our first minister. . . I’m not setting pre-conditions to the selection of Sinn Féin’s deputy first minister”.

He warned that if it did not nominate a deputy first minister, Sinn Féin would be putting “our very peace at risk as a consequence of that action”.

The Northern Secretary held meetings with party leaders at Stormont on Monday and said it was “essential that the transition to new leadership is as smooth as possible”.

The SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party warned that if the Assembly collapsed again, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to restore and it could mean the end of devolution and a return to direct rule.