By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Northern Ireland’s political parties have been urged to form an Executive as soon as possible by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.
Sinn Féin has secured the most seats in the Assembly election, the first time that a nationalist or republican party will form the largest grouping in the devolved Stormont Assembly.
However, the North has been without a powersharing Executive for several months after the DUP collapsed the institutions as part of its protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
The party, led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has vowed not to re-enter government unless their demands over the protocol are met.
In a statement, Mr Lewis said: “I encourage the parties to form an executive as soon as possible.
“The people of Northern Ireland deserve a stable and accountable local government that delivers on the issues that matter most to them.
“The electorate delivered a number of messages on Thursday.
“They were clear that they want a fully functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland, they want the issues around the protocol addressed, and that they want politics to work better.”
Mr Lewis added: “Over the coming days I will be meeting with all the party leaders and will urge them to restore the Stormont institutions at the earliest possible moment, starting with the nomination of an Assembly Speaker within eight days.
Many congratulations to @moneillsf and @MaryLouMcDonald on a truly historic result for Sinn Féin. I wish Michelle & her colleagues - & all Northern Ireland’s elected representatives - the very best for what comes next & hope to see the NI government functioning again soon.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 7, 2022
“The Government remains committed to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and will continue to work with the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government to deliver its vision for reconciliation, equality, respect for rights and parity of esteem.
“Together, we must move forward towards a brighter future – that means delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a similar plea as he congratulated the parties on the election result.
He said: “It is now incumbent on all political parties and elected representatives to deliver on their mandate, through the nomination of a first and deputy first minister and the formation of a new Executive to serve the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
“Powersharing and principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, through which peace has been secured and progress achieved for almost 25 years.
“A new powersharing Executive is vital for progress and prosperity for all in Northern Ireland.
“As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government will continue to work in partnership with the British Government and engage with the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek and support the effective operation of all of the political institutions of the agreement.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon congratulated Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill.
She tweeted: “Many congratulations to @moneillsf and @MaryLouMcDonald on a truly historic result for Sinn Fein.
“I wish Michelle & her colleagues – & all Northern Ireland’s elected representatives – the very best for what comes next & hope to see the NI government functioning again soon.”
Voters in Northern Ireland have spoken.
My comment 👇 pic.twitter.com/xaGqvUfITL
— Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) May 7, 2022
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said his party could act as an “honest broker” in helping to restore the Executive.
He said: “Congratulations to all the new assembly members and to Sinn Fein for earning the right to nominate a new first minister, it is healthy for Northern Ireland that parties from either community can nominate a first minister and shows the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement working.
“Unionism will still have a strong voice within powersharing and calls for progress on the remaining issues of the protocol have been heard and should not prevent a return to the executive.
“The Government must now prioritise practical solutions through negotiation with the EU and not chase headlines with empty threats.
“The Labour party will always be an honest broker for Northern Ireland, and we stand ready to help Stormont deliver on the promise of these elections and get an executive up and running to help people with the cost-of-living crisis we are facing across the United Kingdom.”