Northern Ireland Gets a Government after Two Years


12:33 PM

1 min read
Northern Ireland Gets a Government after Two Years Blog Image

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • Governance system of Ireland
  • Northern Ireland Protocol and Collapse of parliament in 2022
  • The new deal

Why in news?

  • An Irish nationalist made history recently by becoming Northern Ireland’s first minister as the government returned to work after a two-year boycott.
  • The Parliament of Northern Ireland was paralysed over new trade rules between the European Union and the United Kingdom necessitated by Brexit.

Governance System of Ireland

  • Background
    • Northern Ireland was created in May 1921 by partitioning Ireland, and consists of the six northeastern counties of the island. 
      • In 1922, the rest of Ireland gained independence from the British (today’s Republic of Ireland, with its capital in Dublin).
  • Northern Ireland remained with the United Kingdom, but tensions simmered between the side loyal to the Crown, and the faction wanting to join the Republic. 
  • Today, the side loyal to the British Union are called unionists, while those who support a united and free Ireland are called nationalists.
  • Belfast Agreement or the Good Friday agreement
    • By the end of the 1960s, a bloody conflict was raging in Northern Ireland among those who wished to remain with the UK and those who wanted to join Ireland. 
    • Finally, in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed to end the bloodshed, and gave Northern Ireland a unique system of governance.
  • Unique system of governance
    • Both unionists and nationalists share power in Stormont, the Parliament buildings in Belfast. 
    • Both sides have to cooperate for the government to work. 
    • While the faction that wins more votes in elections gets the post of First Minister, the other side gets the chair of Deputy First Minister, with equal power.

Northern Ireland Protocol and Collapse of Parliament in 2022

  • Background: Northern Ireland Protocol
    • After the UK left the European Union, Northern Ireland remained its only constituent that shared a land border with an EU-member, the Republic of Ireland.
      • Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) together with Northern Ireland forms the United Kingdom.
    • Since the EU and the UK have different product standards, border checks would be necessary before goods could move from Northern Ireland to Ireland.
    • However, an open border between the two was a key component of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
    • Keeping this in mind, Northern Ireland Protocol was negotiated in 2020 between the U.K. and the E.U.
  • About the protocol
    • The protocol is a trading agreement that was negotiated in 2020 between the U.K. and the E.U.
    • Under this agreement both the U.K. and E.U. agreed that the inspection of goods would be conducted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
      • This agreement effectively created a de facto border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
    • Northern Ireland continued to follow many of the EU's rules, meaning that lorries can continue to drive across the border without having to be inspected.
    • The protocol was signed as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which is now ratified under international law.
  • Protocol led to the Collapse of Northern Ireland Parliament (Stormont) in 2022
    • This protocol angered the unionists, who believed it undermined Northern Ireland’s position with the UK. 
    • Thus, the Unionists refused to allow government formation after Northern Ireland went to polls in May 2022, and did not allow Stormont to function.

The new deal

Various efforts were made to resolve the problem, including the Windsor Framework of February 2023.

  • Windsor Framework
    • The framework has two crucial aspects: 
      • the introduction of a green lane and red lane system for goods that will stay in Northern Ireland and those that will go to the EU respectively; 
      • the ‘Stormont Brake’, which allows Northern Ireland lawmakers and London to veto any EU regulation they believe affects the region adversely.
    • British goods meant for Northern Ireland will use the green lane at the ports, and will be allowed to pass with minimal paperwork and checks.
    • Goods destined for Ireland or the rest of the EU will have to take the red lane, with the attendant customs and other checks.
    • The new Stormont Brake means the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly can oppose new EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on everyday lives in Northern Ireland.
      • For this, they will need the support of 30 members from at least two parties. 
      • The British government can then veto the law.
  • A new deal has been reached
    • Windsor Framework was refused by the Unionist by saying that these measures were far too little. 
    • Now, a new deal has been reached, published as a command paper called ‘Safeguarding the Union’ by the UK government.
    • Its three main points include: 
      • The green lane is now called the UK Internal Market channel, on which checks and customs paperwork have been reduced further, to only “risk and intelligence-based checks” relating to “criminality, smuggling and disease”; 
      • There is a “Internal Market Guarantee” which says that at least 80% of Great Britain to Northern Ireland goods will pass through this channel; 
      • the UK government will extend a £3.3 billion package to help Northern Ireland’s finances.

Q1) What is Great Britain?

Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, made up of England, Scotland, and Wales. It's the largest island in Europe and the ninth-largest in the world, covering 209,331 square kilometers.

Q2 What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was signed on April 10, 1998. It was a political agreement between the British and Irish governments and most political parties in Northern Ireland. The agreement was designed to end the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

Source: Northern Ireland gets a govt after two years: Why the long standoff, what has changed now | Time | BBC