Northern Ireland elections to be held on March 2nd

It comes after Sinn Féin and the DUP failed to reach agreement

Northern Ireland elections to be held on March 2nd

General view of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast | Image: Liam McBurney PA Wire/PA Images

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister Theresa May have discussed the upcoming election in Northern Ireland.

The two leaders spoke by phone on Monday evening.

It comes after elections were called for Thursday March 2nd by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire.

"I propose that a draft Order in Council be brought forward shortly to set an election date of Thursday 2nd March and to dissolve the Assembly from the 26th January meaning its last sitting day will be the 25th", Mr Brokenshire said.

"No one should underestimate the challenge faced to the political institutions here in Northern Ireland and what is at stake.

"While it is inevitable that debate during an election period will be intense, I would strongly encourage the political parties to conduct this election with a view to the future of Northern Ireland and re-establishing a partnership government at the earliest opportunity after that poll.

"This is essential for the operation of devolved government. And this means that all must remain open to dialogue.

"The (British) Government continues to stand firmly behind its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and its successors and our responsibilities to safeguard political stability here in Northern Ireland.

"We will continue to do all that we can to find a way forward and secure the continuation of devolved government.

"And I will make a further statement in parliament tomorrow."

Kenny and May 'regretful'

A statement from the Department of the Taoiseach says Mr Kenny and Mrs May discussed the current situation "regretting that the parties there had been unable to reach agreement and noting that an election would now take place".

They both expressed hope the election campaign would be respectful - noting that following the election the Northern Ireland parties would once again have to engage on the various challenges they face.

Mr Kenny and Mrs May repeated their hope to see the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement operating effectively, and in particular to have a fully functioning executive in place as soon as possible.

Mrs May also also took the opportunity to discuss the speech on Brexit which she plans to deliver Tuesday.

The Taoiseach reiterated key concerns for Ireland - covering the economic and trading relationship, the common travel area, and the Northern Ireland Peace Process including border issues.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire speaking in Stormont House, Belfast | Image: Niall Carson PA Wire/PA Images

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan also spoke with Mr Brokenshire earlier.

In a statement, Mr Flanagan says: "We agreed that both Governments should continue to work closely together in the weeks to come, looking ahead to the post-election period, when a new power-sharing executive will need to be formed.

"In this regard, as the assembly election campaign gets underway, I reiterate my call to all parties in the election to act responsibly in word and deed so that the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement will not be damaged in the longer term.

"These institutions, including the assembly and the executive, are indispensable for addressing the needs and concerns of people in Northern Ireland, including peace, prosperity, reconciliation and indeed the considerable challenges posted by the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

"Any election campaign will see different points of view raised, but voters are entitled to expect that their political representatives will come together respectfully, in accordance with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, to deliver solutions for all of the people of Northern Ireland. I urge all parties contesting the Assembly election to bear that duty in mind in the weeks ahead.

"As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government will continue to work with the British Government and the political parties to advance political stability, reconciliation and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland."

Rule from Westminster?

It comes after Sinn Féin announced it will not replace Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister at the Stormont Assembly.

Despite last-ditch attempts for a resolution, the Northern Ireland Assembly reached the point of collapse at 5.00pm Monday - forcing Mr Brokenshire to call the election.

Mr McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister a week ago over a botched renewable energy scheme - demanding the resignation of then DUP first minister Arlene Foster.

Sinn Féin had seven days to re-nominate a deputy and resolve its differences with its partners in the power-sharing government, the DUP, before the UK Government called an election.

However, it formally gave notice Mr McGuinness will not be renominated as deputy first minister.

Earlier, the DUP had renominated Mrs Foster as first minister. She stressed that the people of Northern Ireland did not need an election, which has been widely regarded as potentially damaging.

Indications are that Sinn Féin and the DUP will remain the two largest parties - meaning they will still have to come to the negotiating table for a power-sharing arrangement.

If they fail to reach an agreement after three weeks then British Prime Minister Theresa May could be left with little choice but to suspend devolution and reinstate rule from Westminster, just as she is in the run-up to Brexit negotiations.

Both Mr McGuinness and Mrs Foster had a telephone call from Mrs May, urging them to find a resolution before the 5.00pm deadline.

Additional reporting: IRN