Northern Ireland continues to suffer from post-Brexit institutional gridlock

Northern Ireland continues to suffer from post-Brexit institutional gridlock

Northern Ireland's institutional impasse remains far from resolved two years after the Democratic Unionist Party left government. London's repeated attempts to resume the normal functioning of the Belfast Parliament (Stormont) have so far fallen on deaf ears, despite the fact that the political and economic situation in the country is increasingly alarming. Protests by thousands of public sector workers last week have added further pressure on unionists, who continue to opt for blockades in response to agreements reached by the British government and the European Union to ensure there will no longer be a physical border between the two Irelands. Britain's exit from the European Union.

DUP MPs once again blocked the appointment of the Speaker of Parliament, despite the expiration of the deadline set by the London government to close the matter on Thursday last week. For their part, unionists insist that signing the Northern Ireland Protocol and the subsequent Windsor Framework – which aims to impose Irish Sea cargo controls only on products destined for the EU – are unacceptable because they do not provide enough resources. Clarity regarding the protection of Northern Ireland in the UK internal market. DUP unionists walked out of the Belfast government in February 2022 in protest and led to its dissolution, a situation that remains to this day, despite mass mobilization.

Services are below minimum

The British Minister for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, recently announced that he would seek to find a “practical, appropriate and limited” way to try to respond to this blockade, although he has ruled out for the time being taking full powers over the country. As well as eventually calling for new elections. Among the options London is considering is to give more flexibility to officials to make decisions on spending, given the lack of a regional government, and thus try to curb increasingly frequent protests by public sector workers, including teachers and nurses, who continue to work. Their salaries have been frozen due to the government and Stormont Parliament closures.

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In recent days, the country's main unions promoted one of the largest demonstrations in recent years. Authorities estimate that nearly 150,000 workers took to the streets of Belfast and major cities on Thursday to denounce the deterioration of public services such as education and health and demand a return to normal institutional life. The union warned last Thursday: “Today’s demonstration is only the beginning. If we do not achieve social and economic justice, the struggle will continue. Today is a general strike for the public sector, but tomorrow it will be a general strike for all workers.” NEPSA General Secretary, Patrick Mulholland.

“Political blackmail”

The British government has offered £3.3 billion (€3.8 billion) to increase the salaries of civil servants in Northern Ireland, but has insisted it will only hand over the money if institutional gridlock is put to an end. “I continue to believe that the full Northern Irish Executive is best placed to act quickly and effectively to resolve these issues,” Heaton-Harris said in a statement this week. This situation does not seem possible, at least at the moment. The victory of Sinn Féin Republicans in the recent regional elections has put more reasons on the table for unionists to avoid resolving the situation, despite the fact that power in Belfast is shared between the two factions, as stipulated in the Good Friday Agreements.

DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson described the British government's proposal as an “outrageously cruel act of political blackmail” and also indicated that his party's main priority was to provide an answer to the British government's concerns. Unionists on Brexit trade agreements. The formation, which gathered its board on Friday to analyze the situation, insisted that it needed legislative guarantees that would protect Northern Ireland in the UK's internal market, although there were more and more internal voices betting on reaching an agreement. And with London as soon as possible to end the institutional gridlock that is stifling workers in Northern Ireland and weakening public services.

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