First and Deputy First Ministers are set to be appointed in Northern Ireland (NI) today after the UK government pledged to legislate on Irish language at Westminster.
A powersharing crisis in NI appears to have been averted after a late night deal over Irish language laws paved the way for Stormont leaders to be appointed.
A post-midnight announcement by the UK government committing to pass the stalled laws at Westminster in the autumn, if they are not moved at the Stormont Assembly in the interim, was enough to convince Sinn Fein to drop its threat not to nominate a Deputy First Minister as joint head of the devolved Executive.
The development came after a night of intensive talks involving Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and DUP and Sinn Fein delegations in Belfast.
Addressing the media outside Stormont House close to 1am, Mr. Lewis said both parties had agreed to reconstitute the Executive by nominating to the positions of First and Deputy First Ministers later today, Thursday.
Both parties confirmed they will nominate to the roles, and Assembly authorities are working to schedule a special sitting of the legislature.
If the nominations proceed today, the Executive will be able to hold a scheduled meeting later in the day to decide the latest pandemic relaxations for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Lewis said it remained his preference for the language laws to be brought forward through the Assembly by the Executive, as originally envisaged in the 2020 New Decade New Approach deal that restored power-sharing.
He said: “I am disappointed that it has not yet brought this legislation forward in the Assembly.
“However, following my intensive negotiations with the parties over the last few days, I can confirm that if the Executive has not progressed legislation by the end of September, the UK government will take the legislation through Parliament in Westminster.
“If that becomes necessary, we will introduce legislation in October.”
He added: “I now expect the DUP and Sinn Fein to nominate a First and Deputy First Minister in the Assembly at the earliest opportunity today.
“They have confirmed to me that they will do this, reflecting their enduring commitments to all aspects of the NDNA agreement.
“This will allow the Executive to return its focus to delivering on the issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland, issues such as health care, housing, education and jobs.”
In order to form a functioning executive, and to avert a snap Assembly election, both roles have to be filled by a deadline of 1pm next Monday.