Political news

Brokenshire: Let's not have a brutal election

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire calls for a clean fight in the snap election
Michael McHugh, Press Association

The Northern Ireland Secretary has called for a respectful election in Northern Ireland.

The former first minister at Stormont Arlene Foster had predicted the contest would be "brutal".

But James Brokenshire told MPs the future of powersharing was at stake.

He was forced to announce a poll on Monday after Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in a feud with coalition partners the Democratic Unionists over an overspending eco-boiler scheme.

Mr Brokenshire said: "This election is about the future of Northern Ireland and its political institutions. Not just the Assembly but all of the arrangements that have been put in place to reflect relationships throughout these islands.

"That is why it will be vital for the campaign to be conducted respectfully and in ways that do not simply exacerbate tensions and division.

"Once the campaign is over we need to be in a position to re-establish strong and stable devolved government in Northern Ireland."

There are fears that a divisive election campaign will make a rapprochement between the DUP and Sinn Fein even less likely, raising the spectre of a return to direct rule from London if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks on the other side of the March 2 poll.

Over the past decade Northern Ireland has enjoyed the longest run of unbroken devolved government since before the demise of the old Stormont Parliament in 1972.

Mr Brokenshire noted: "It has not always been easy, with more than a few bumps in the road but with strong leadership issues that might once have brought the institutions down have been resolved through dialogue."

He added: "Mr Speaker, Northern Ireland has come so far and we cannot allow the gains that have been made to be derailed.

"So, yes, we have an election. But once this election is over we need to be in a position to continue building a Northern Ireland that works for everyone."

The country will go to the polls to elect a reduced 90 Stormont Assembly members just 10 months after the last vote.

It was triggered by the fracturing of a powersharing deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness quit last week citing irreconcilable differences with the DUP.

The deadline for Sinn Fein to renominate to the vacant post before an election had to be called passed on Monday evening.

Mr McGuinness's resignation was precipitated by the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal - a botched green energy scheme overseen by DUP ministers set to cost Stormont £490 million - but that row has also reignited a range of other vexed disputes dividing the coalition.

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