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Stormont: What is it and why did power-sharing collapse in Northern Ireland?

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Stormont has been in deep freeze since the political institutions collapsed in 2017
There have been three years of deadlock at Stormont since the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive collapsed. That means there has been no functioning government in Northern Ireland since January 2017.Several previous rounds of talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont have failed - although a draft deal has now been published which could pave a way for the assembly to sit again.But what exactly is Stormont and what caused it to collapse in the first place
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What is Stormont?
Stormont is the commonly used name to refer to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is based in the Stormont Estate, in east Belfast.The assembly is where political business relating to Northern Ireland takes place, with laws made and scrutinised by 90 elected representatives.
It was created in 1998, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end more than 30 years of armed conflict known as the Troubles.Stormont uses a system of government know as power-sharing. This has allowed nationalist and unionist political parties to share power together for the first time in an executive (or government), alongside a legislative chamber made up of assembly members which proposes and scrutinises laws.Nationalists favour unity with the Republic of Ireland, while unionists want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.When it is sitting, Stormont exercises powers over most matters, including the economy, education, health, policing and justice, and agriculture.But certain areas - including international relations and defence - remain reserved for the UK government in London.
Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish language act, a proposal that divides the political parties
Why has it been suspended for so long?
Stormont collapsed in January 2017 when the two biggest parties - the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and nationalist party Sinn Fein - split in a bitter row over the DUP's handling of a green energy scandal.
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Since then, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended and attempts to restore it have failed.The parties clashed after Sinn Fein said it would not go back into an executive (or power-sharing arrangement) with the DUP, unless legislation for an Irish language act was implemented.This would guarantee Irish was given the same official status as English in Northern Ireland and could include the option for Irish to be used in court and the appointment of an Irish language commissioner to ensure the language was facilitated.The Irish language has divided opinion because it is seen as important to many nationalists, some unionists and others as a symbol of identity.But political unionism rejected previous attempts by nationalist parties to introduce legislation in the assembly, prior to its collapse in 2017, and has resisted calls for it to happen in order for Stormont to be restored. In February 2018, it appeared a deal was about to be brokered - but it collapsed at the last moment, as the DUP and Sinn Fein disagreed on the proposed agreement text.
An anti-Brexit protest in Belfast
Who has been running Northern Ireland in the meantime?
Without executive ministers in place to take decisions and be held accountable, it has fallen to Stormont's civil servants to hold the fort.Civil servants are people who administer and implement policy, which means their powers are limited. They have been able to keep Northern Ireland's public services ticking over but have been reluctant to take decisions they feel are out of their remit, meaning many important issues have been stalled.
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So what happens next?
The parties have only until 13 January 2020 to find a solution - otherwise the Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, is legally obliged to call a fresh assembly election.Just a few days before the deadline, a deal to restore Northern Ireland's government was published. It addresses some of the key sticking points, including the Irish language issue.It also makes provision for a number of long-standing demands of environmentalists, including the idea that a new Programme for Government would see a separate climate change act for Northern Ireland - the only part of the UK without such legislation.However, Northern Ireland's political parties will need to agree the deal before Stormont is recalled.
What are the key points in the draft deal?
'Deal agreement needed' before assembly recall
What is direct rule in Northern Ireland?
Sinn Fein
Alliance Party (Northern Ireland)
SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party)
UUP (Ulster Unionist Party)
Stormont
Stormont stalemate
DUP (Democratic Unionist Party)
Brexit
Northern Ireland Assembly
See also:
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