Northern Ireland news

Election could be called this autumn if no first minister is appointed

An assembly election could be called for the autumn if a new first minister cannot be agreed. Picture by Peter Morrison, Press Association

An election could be called as early as this autumn if the assembly cannot agree a replacement for Arlene Foster after she steps down in June.

Mrs Foster announced on Wednesday that she is to resign as DUP leader on May 28 and as first minister at the end of June.

As the largest party from the largest political grouping in the assembly, the DUP is entitled to nominate someone to hold the post of first minister.

Once Mrs Foster steps down, the DUP will be asked to nominate a replacement within seven days and a vote will be held in the assembly.

If a replacement is not nominated, the Secretary of State must call an assembly election.

An election is scheduled for next year, but failure to agree a new first minister would bring this date forward.

With the assembly on its summer break, an autumn election seems most likely, if a first minister cannot be selected.

Mrs Foster's resignation comes as legislation to introduce a 'cooling off' period in the event of a collapse of the Executive is to be progressed later this year.

The New Decade, New Approach deal, agreed in January 2020 to restore Stormont, extended the time allowed for a new First and Deputy First Minister to be appointed after one of the two resigns.

The deadline was increased from 7-14 days to 24 weeks.

If no-one is appointed, the Secretary of State must announce an election within a further 12 weeks.

However, this has not yet been legislated for.

The provision, which would amend the Northern Ireland Act 1998, was agreed amid criticism of the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 and the subsequent deadlock which left Northern Ireland without a government for three years.

The Northern Ireland Office was asked yesterday if a timetable for the new legislation to be debated in Parliament had been agreed.

However, a spokesman said it had nothing further to add to a statement it gave The Irish News in March.

"We are making good progress with this legislation which will be brought forward during the second parliamentary session," he said.

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