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Northern Ireland Political Party Ends 2-Year Boycott Leading to Government Collapse

Northern Ireland political party agrees to end 2-year boycott that caused the government to collapse

The largest British unionist party in Northern Ireland has announced its decision to end a two-year boycott, paving the way for the potential restoration of a power-sharing administration in Belfast.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson, after a late-night meeting, confirmed that the party’s executive has endorsed proposals to rejoin the government.

Agreements with the U.K. government in London have laid the groundwork for the party to nominate members to the Northern Ireland Executive, potentially leading to the reestablishment of locally elected institutions.

Northern Ireland Political Party Ends 2-Year Boycott Leading to Government Collapse

Northern Ireland Political Party Ends 2-Year Boycott Leading to Government Collapse (Credits: Arizona Daily Star)

The breakthrough follows the U.K. government’s ultimatum last week, giving Northern Ireland politicians until Feb. 8 to reinstate the collapsed government or face new elections. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris expressed optimism, stating that all conditions are now in place for the Assembly’s return, and discussions among the entitled parties are underway to finalize the deal promptly.

The DUP had withdrawn from the government in February 2022 due to a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules. Since then, the party has steadfastly refused to collaborate with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, hindering the functioning of the administration mandated by power-sharing rules integral to Northern Ireland’s peace process.

The absence of a functioning government left Northern Ireland’s 1.9 million residents without effective decision-making amid rising living costs and strained public health services.

Public sector workers, including teachers and nurses, recently staged a 24-hour strike to pressure politicians to return to governance and address overdue pay raises. The British government pledged over £3 billion ($3.8 billion) for Northern Ireland’s public services, contingent on the reactivation of the executive in Belfast.

The DUP’s withdrawal was rooted in opposition to post-Brexit trade rules established after the U.K.’s departure from the European Union in 2020.

These rules included customs checks and other obstacles on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., implemented to maintain an open border with the Republic of Ireland and uphold Northern Ireland’s peace process. While the U.K. and the EU reached a deal in February 2023 to ease customs checks, the DUP persisted in its government boycott until additional measures were agreed upon.

Jeffrey Donaldson highlighted that the new measures from the British government would eliminate checks for goods within the U.K. and remaining in Northern Ireland, also ending automatic alignment with future EU laws.

However, the decision faces opposition from some hard-line unionists, concerned about potential internal trade barriers. Protesters gathered outside the DUP meeting venue, expressing dissent with placards reading, “Stop DUP sellout.”

Donaldson acknowledged facing threats over his negotiation efforts but emphasized the party’s determination to contribute to Northern Ireland’s progress.

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