Northern Ireland Assembly

Article

May 17, 2022

The Assembly of Northern Ireland (English: Northern Ireland Assembly, Irish: Tuaisceart Éireannis, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlann Semmlie) is the denomination for the Parliament in Northern Ireland established under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Since the installation of the first parliament, activities have been suspended for extended periods on a number of occasions, the longest between October 14, 2002 and May 7, 2007. The most recent suspension was from January 9, 2017 to January 11, 2020. The main reason is that large numbers of distrust exists between the unionist parties (Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party) on the one hand, and the nationalist Sinn Féin on the other.

Background

When Northern Ireland was created in 1921, it got its own parliament. This parliament existed from 1921 to 1972. In that last year, the self-government of Northern Ireland was abolished by the then government of the United Kingdom. The then parliament and government were both dominated for fifty years by the Ulster Unionist party. The Catholic, mostly nationalist minority did not feel represented. The government in London sought a reintroduction of self-government in which Catholics would be involved in the government. In the period between 1972 and 1998, there were two previous attempts to establish a new parliament, but both attempts failed, partly due to strong opposition from Protestant quarters, notably from the Democratic Unionist party.

Composition

Since 2017, the Assembly consists of one chamber of 90 members. Elections are held under the single transferable vote system, a form of proportional representation also used in the Republic of Ireland. For elections, Northern Ireland is divided into constituencies, the same districts used for elections to the British Parliament. While only one candidate is elected from each constituency in the elections to Parliament in Westminster, the elections to the Assembly elect five candidates from each constituency. Elected members are required to indicate whether they consider themselves unionist, nationalist or other. The designation is important because some decisions require support from both communities, unionists and nationalists. Since its inception, elections have been held seven times. The evolution in the seat distribution is as follows. Only the parties ever represented in the Assembly are included in the table; the total numbers (percentages and seats) are calculated on the basis of the parties represented. The parties that formed part of the government are indicated, as well as (by underlining) the parties that were allowed to supply a first minister or deputy first minister. The outcome of the March 2, 2017 elections left the group that considers itself unionists without a majority for the first time since the assembly was established. Despite repeated attempts, after the 2017 elections, it failed to form a Northern Ireland government that fulfilled the conditions of the Good Friday Agreement. The position of Prime Minister also remained vacant and the Assembly was suspended. In January 2020, Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed to a proposal developed under the leadership of the Irish and British governments to break the deadlock. On January 11, 2020, another government was formed and the work of the Assembly resumed. On February 3, 2022, Prime Minister Paul Givan (DUP) announced his resignation. He said he would resign in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol that created a customs and regulatory border between the EU and the United Kingdom in the Irish Sea, putting Northern Ireland in an exceptional position within the United Kingdom. In accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, Givan's resignation also meant the resignation