Monday, January 9, 2017

09JAN2017 - Northern Ireland heading to the polls, possibly

Northern Ireland may be heading to the polls soon.

The political system in Northern Ireland is complex, but I will try to provide a bit of background.

Stormont, the name usually given to the assembly, has special rules in place to allow for power sharing between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister, has resigned, which means that his Sinn Fein, his party, does not select a replacement (or re-nominate him) to the post within one week, stormont will fall and Northern Ireland will head into elections.

It is, as always, far more nuanced.

This has been sparked by a scandal involving a the "Renewable Heat Incentive" or RHI. In short, this involved the government giving money to people using renewable fuels to heat their buildings; but it was abused by people heating empty buildings because they would end up with more money.

The problem is the cabinet minister who set up and ran this program is now the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster.

Again skipping important nuance for the sake of brevity; Sinn Fein (SF), who governs in coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), was unhappy with this, and aligned with the opposition parties, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) to demand Foster step aside.

Such a move is not unprecedented, and it has become somewhat 'normal' for a First Minister in the midst of a scandal to temporarily step aside.

The move by SF and McGuinness has forced the issue, and it is likely that unless Foster agrees to step aside by the 16th, that SF will refuse to nominate a replacement for McGuinness, and the assembly will collapse.

After this, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a cabinet-level position in Westminster, will have the power to call new elections, which is expected to happen soon thereafter, likely placing the election for March 2nd or 9th.

I will keep you all updated if there are any movements towards elections.

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