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The political landscape in Northern Ireland has changed significantly since the DUP and Sinn Féin were returned as the two largest parties following the May 2016 Assembly election.

A breakdown in relations between the two parties led to the resignation of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the subsequent collapse of the power-sharing Executive. This resulted in another Assembly election in March 2017, but political negotiations failed to reach a breakthrough, with former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire warning of a “glide-path towards direct rule”[1].

There are a number of factors impacting on relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin has accused the DUP of failing to honour previous commitments on an Irish Language Act and differences remain around other areas such as dealing with the legacy of the Troubles and same-sex marriage. There were also concerns around the potential mismanagement of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which is now the subject of an independent public inquiry. The issue of Brexit is another complicating factor, as the DUP and Sinn Féin take opposing views on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

Fresh talks were reconvened under the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley. There was speculation in early February 2018 that a deal to restore power-sharing was imminent, but the talks concluded without agreement.

As a result, the UK Government has taken steps to ensure the continuation of public administration in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State published budget allocations for 2018-19 in March 2018; these included £410 million from the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP. On 15 March the Government also indicated that it plans to introduce two Bills into the House of Commons and to request that they be ‘fast-tracked’: the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill and the Northern Ireland (Assembly Members, Regional Rates and Energy) Bill.

[1]     The Guardian, Northern Ireland assembly members could lose their salaries, 18 October 2017

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