Britain to delay Northern Ireland elections again, hopeful of deal

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will further delay holding fresh elections in Northern Ireland, its minister for the region said on Wednesday, expressing hope that agreement could be reached in the coming weeks to restore the power-sharing government.

Northern Ireland has been without a government for almost two years after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked out in protest over Britain’s attempts to settle post-Brexit trade rules for the region, which the party says created significant trade barriers with the rest of the United Kingdom.

An election in May 2022 did not solve the impasse and London had previously pushed back to this week the deadline to begin arranging a fresh poll.

Asked in parliament if the government intended to postpone the elections again, barring an unlikely last minute deal, Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said this was correct and he would bring in legislation to do so next week.

“I believe we have made excellent progress and I really do hope that in the coming days and weeks we can get to a point where his party (DUP) can come to a conclusion on those talks that leads us to reform the executive,” Heaton-Harris said in answer to a question from a DUP lawmaker.

The leader of the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson, also reported progress in the talks on Monday, though he declined to give a timetable for a possible deal.

Irish nationalists and pro-British unionist politicians are obliged to share power under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

(Reporting Alistair Smout in London and Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)