Northern Ireland election deadline extended to ensure public spending continues

The move means there will be no new ballot until at least March

The Carson Statue and Parliament buildings at Stormont Estate, in Northern Ireland. PA
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The UK government has extended a deadline to hold a new election in Northern Ireland to ensure public spending continues uninterrupted while the region is without a devolved government.

That means there will be no new ballot until March at the earliest.

The region has been without a power-sharing government since the pro-British Democratic Unionist party began a boycott in February in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

They refused to return after an election in May made Irish nationalists Sinn Fein the largest party.

A six-month deadline to form a government passed last month, and Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, said he had no choice but to hold an election within 12 weeks of October 27.

Mr Heaton-Harris on Wednesday told parliament he was introducing an additional delay that means that the 12-week clock will now not start until December 8 and may be pushed back again to January 19.

That would mean an election would need to be held by either March 2 or April 13 next year.

“The vast majority of those I have spoken to think that an election at this time would be unwelcome,” Mr Heaton-Harris told MPs.

“So, as has been done before, the legislation I introduce will also enable Northern Ireland departments to support public service delivery; make a small number of vital public appointments, like to the Northern Ireland Policing Board; and address the serious budgetary issues mentioned already,” he said.

Assembly members’ salaries will also reportedly be cut by a third.

Almost £2.8 million ($3.2m) has been paid in salaries to members since they were elected in May, despite not having taken up their seats.

“I will thus be asking for the House's support to enable me to reduce MLAs' salaries appropriately,” he said.

The Cabinet minister is also giving extra powers to Stormont civil servants to enable them to run the region's rudderless public services and will take steps to pass a budget for the region.

The moves will require legislation to be set out and passed at Westminster.

Updated: November 09, 2022, 3:35 PM