Northern Ireland elections set for March 2 as govt falls

 16 Jan 2017 - 22:34


Dublin: Britain's Cabinet minister for Northern Ireland says the territory's unraveling unity government must be dissolved and an early election will be held on March 2.
Secretary of State James Brokenshire said yesterday he had no power to compel the opposite sides in Northern Ireland's nearly decade-old government coalition to keep working together as the territory's 1998 peace accord intended. Brokenshire expressed hope that the Irish Catholics of Sinn Fein and the British Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party would repair their broken relationship following the vote, which comes just 10 months after a previous election.
He spoke hours after Sinn Fein refused to fill its top post in the two-party government, denounced its Democratic Unionist partners as corrupt and bigoted and called for a new vote.
McGuinness resigned last week in protest over a botched green heating scheme following weeks of tensions with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports British rule of the province.
T"Sinn Fein have indicated that they're not intending to put a replacement forward. The clear indications are that we are moving towards an election," Brokenshire told the BBC on Sunday.
The crisis over a green energy scheme instigated by Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, when she was economy minister has been simmering for months.
She has repeatedly refused to step aside temporarily to allow an investigation into a scheme which could cost Northern Ireland taxpayers up to £490m ($592m, ¤558m) and McGuinness last week quit his position, accusing Foster of "deep-seated arrogance".  Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive and assembly were formed under the 1998 Belfast Agreement that effectively ended three decades of political violence in Northern Ireland.
The sectarian voting patterns that have always characterised elections in the province's deeply divided society could remain intact in the next vote, bringing little prospect of an end to the political stalemate.
If the two biggest parties are returned as expected but the deadlock remains, then a second election could be called if there is failure to form an executive within three weeks of the vote.
The other option would be direct rule of Northern Ireland from the British parliament in London. The last period of direct rule ended in 2007.
In the Brexit referendum, 56 percent in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU compared to a national result of 52 percent in favour of leaving. The DUP was the only one of the main political parties that voted to leave the bloc.  British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she plans to launch the EU exit procedure by the end of March.