Elections on the horizon in Northern Ireland

Published: 11th Jan 2017

In brief


If there is no new deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland within a week, the law requires an election there.



“The legislation is that if within seven days we don’t have a nomination for a Deputy First Minister [in Northern Ireland], then the matter would go to an election”

Theresa May, 11 January 2017

The deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, resigned on Monday 9 January. If the Sinn Féin party don’t nominate a replacement, that does mean an election.

Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, “where the offices of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister become vacant at any time, they shall be filled... within a period of seven days”.

The resignation of the deputy First Minister, who despite the title is meant to be the equal of the First Minister, also ousts the First Minister, Arlene Foster, from office. Northern Ireland has a power-sharing government, which has to represent both unionists and nationalists in the province; Ms Foster leads the Democratic Unionist Party.

So both the First Minister and the deputy First Minister now have to be re-nominated. If the posts aren’t filled within a week, the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, has to “propose a date for the poll for the election of the next Assembly”.

Sinn Féin is the only party that can nominate a replacement for the outgoing deputy First Minister because it’s the largest party representing nationalists. But it has said that it won’t because of a disagreement with Ms Foster.

The law requires Mr Brokenshire to arrange an election unless things are patched up by 5pm on 16 January. He has said that “although there is no fixed timetable in the legislation for me to do that, it needs to be within a reasonable period”.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of Prime Minister's Questions. Read the roundup.


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