Northern Ireland set for another new deadline for power-sharing deal

The government is to push back the deadline to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland after almost two years without a devolved administration.

Power-sharing, the mechanism by which a Stormont executive is formed under the Good Friday Agreement, was collapsed by the DUP's refusal to allow a speaker to be nominated.

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The unionist party, which won fewer seats than the republican Sinn Fein party for the first time in 2022's election, has pointed to its opposition to Brexit trade arrangements.

It has argued Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework deal with the EU creates a border down the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Last December, the UK government made a £3.3bn "final offer" in a bid to restore power-sharing, partly designed to help end public sector strikes, but the impasse has remained.

A new law, which will be debated and voted on in its entirety on Wednesday 24 January, will set a new deadline for the formation of an executive at 8 February.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he is "committed to restoring devolution and significant progress has been made towards that objective".

"I believe that this bill, with the constrained timescales, will be sufficient," he added.

The previous deadline was 18 January.

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Legislation states the UK has a duty to call a snap election once the cut-off for forming an executive is passed.

But Westminster has repeatedly passed legislation to delay as it tries to get Stormont functioning.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill, who would be first minister if the executive was formed, said: "People have rightly had enough of the DUP's inaction.

"They need mature and positive leadership focused on delivering for them.

"My message to the DUP is to work with us, get round the executive table and make a difference to people's lives.

"Thousands of public sector workers educating our children, caring for patients in our hospitals and running our transport services are once again being forced to take industrial action for the pay rises being denied to them."

Labour has indicated it will support the government's bill on Wednesday.