NI powersharing government to return after DUP confirms end of boycott

Northern Ireland Assembly to sit at Stormont on Saturday afternoon

Powersharing government will return to Northern Ireland on Saturday after the DUP confirmed it would end its two-year boycott and re-enter the Assembly and Executive.

In a statement issued following the fast-tracking of legislation through the House of Commons on Thursday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said there “now exists a basis” for the nomination of a speaker and the appointment of ministers.

“Following the completion of detailed internal party processes with my party officers, all our elected members and DUP peers in the [House of] Lords, as well as the [UK] government having taken the legislative steps required of it, we are now able to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive,” Mr Donaldson said.

The Assembly sitting on Saturday afternoon was confirmed shortly afterwards in a letter from the outgoing speaker, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey, who said he had “now received communication from the DUP ... which indicates that the necessary business can be completed successfully” and summoned the Assembly to meet at 1pm.


Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill will become the first nationalist to hold the position of first minister, while the Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little-Pengelly is tipped as the front-runner for the role of deputy first minister, given that the DUP leader has said he intends to remain as an MP until the general election.

Mr Donaldson is due to meet the leaders of the other Executive parties on Friday, in advance of the Assembly sitting.

The debate in the House of Commons on Thursday revealed the divisions within the DUP over the deal, with Mr Donaldson facing down opposition from some of his own MPs, including Sammy Wilson, who said he opposed the deal because it still allowed for sections of European Union law to apply in the North.

“My detractors have been vocal in challenging me to debate,” Mr Donaldson said. “When they are in a position to set out the changes that they have secured [to protect the union], then I’ll consider a discussion with them. I will not accept their criticism of what we have achieved.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told the debate that his party opposed the changes as laid out in the UK government’s Command Paper, saying they “undermined” the North-South relationship by changing references in previous agreements to the all-island economy.

“[We] think [the changes proposed] move too far away from North-South and towards east-west,” he said, adding that the changes had gone “too far in the way of the DUP”.

Mr Eastwood also challenged Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland Secretary, about whether the UK government had moved away from its stance of “rigorous impartiality” in relation to the Belfast Agreement.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times