Newton Emerson: Stormont’s last collapse a warning of its next

DUP and Sinn Féin seem to have inability to take tough devolved spending decisions

No prizes for guessing what the DUP and Sinn Féin will ask for in return for a devolution deal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

No prizes for guessing what the DUP and Sinn Féin will ask for in return for a devolution deal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The three-year collapse of Stormont has caused people to forget its previous three-year de facto collapse, between 2012 and 2015. But the central dispute from that earlier period has resurfaced with a vengeance in the current general election campaign. This bodes ill for the restoration of devolution, tentatively expected in the first half of next year.

Introducing UK-wide welfare reforms to Northern Ireland caused Sinn Féin to effectively go on strike from 2012, bringing executive business to a halt. Two talks processes failed to clear the deadlock. In 2015, the DUP threatened to walk out and cause an actual collapse. The matter was finally resolved in the Fresh Start agreement, where the DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance voted to hand welfare powers back to Westminster and let the British government impose reform, in return for a £585 million four-year mitigation package to protect and prepare benefit claimants in Northern Ireland.

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