In Northern Ireland, the hope of breaking the political deadlock

On the hillside, the neoclassical Palace of Stormont, seat of the Northern Irish Assembly (the local Parliament), offers a splendid view over Belfast Bay. On this rainy afternoon in mid-March, its vast corridors are empty and the security guards are yawning with boredom at the reception desk. The Northern Irish Assembly has been paralyzed for more than a year, since the main unionist formation in the province, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, representing communities loyal to belonging to the United Kingdom) boycotted it in protest against the protocol “.

Stormont Palace, seat of the Northern Irish Parliament, in the suburbs of Belfast, March 13, 2023.

Signed at the end of 2019 by the government of Boris Johnson and the European Union (EU), this crucial part of the Brexit treaty establishes a special status for Northern Ireland, still part of the European internal market (for the exchange of goods), but separated from the rest of the UK by a customs border in the Irish Sea. A barrier that Unionists see as an attack on their British identity.

At the end of February, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, managed to renegotiate this protocol with Brussels. He thus hoped to appease the community tensions, still alive in the province twenty-five years after the peace treaty of Good Friday, which put an end to the civil war between unionists (mainly Protestants) and nationalists (Catholics, supporters of the reunification of Ireland).

Shared frustration

This agreement or “Windsor framework” eliminates a large part of the customs barriers of the protocol. And Northern Ireland keeps a foothold in the EU, which continues to upset the leaders of the Unionist parties. This new text should be adopted Wednesday, March 22 in the House of Commons, in London: the Labor deputies and some of the elected Conservatives support it. But Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, announced Monday, March 20, that his party would vote against. The question is whether, despite everything, he will agree to sit again in Stormont to end the political deadlock. According to the Good Friday Treaty – which established a perfect sharing of power between the two communities – Parliament cannot indeed function without the participation of unionists or nationalists.

Narrative : Article reserved for our subscribers New agreement on Northern Ireland: the United Kingdom and the European Union are banking on new peaceful relations
The 'Purple Standard', a loyalist publication on sale in the inner working class, loyalist area of ​​East Belfast near the city's docks on March 17, 2023.

“We cannot remain without Parliament or local government, which is in charge of housing, education or health. We can neither vote the budget nor make transformative decisions for the lives of our fellow citizens,” deplores Kate Nicholl, Northern Irish MP from the Alliance party (centrist, non-denominational), who receives in her office in Stormont. At 34, this hopeful of local politics was elected for the first time in May 2022, but has never yet been able to get to work. “Take childcare aid: it is clearly insufficient. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer has just announced a substantial increase in this aid in England, but for lack of Parliament, it is impossible for us to do the same”, explains the chosen one.

You have 66.97% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here