Assembly election: DUP and Sinn Féin urged to secure deal

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Following the election, the DUP remains the largest party with 28 seats – a margin of just one seat over Sinn Féin

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is to meet Stormont party leaders later to try to persuade them to form a new power-sharing executive.

It follows Thursday’s election which ended a unionist majority at Stormont.

Mr Brokenshire said the primary responsibility lies with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin to use the limited window now open.

The parties have just three weeks to overcome their differences and form an executive.

New and returning assembly members will be moving into their offices later.

Talks are scheduled to get under way elsewhere at Stormont to determine how long the new assembly term lasts.

Media captionBBC News NI looks at the next steps for the Stormont Assembly

“Both the main parties are saying they want to see power sharing restored,” said BBC News NI’s political editor Mark Devenport.

“But Sinn Féin is objecting to Arlene Foster returning as first minister while an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal remains under way and, so far, there’s no sign of how this immediate problem might be resolved.”

Mrs Foster set up the botched energy scheme in 2012 and her refusal to stand aside during the investigation was the catalyst for Martin McGuinness’ resignation as deputy first minister.

His departure in January triggered the collapse of the DUP and Sinn Féin-led coalition government, forcing last week’s snap election.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds told BBC Radio Ulster that Mrs Foster had been through a “very difficult time” and her position as leader of the party was “entirely secure”.

The people of Northern Ireland had given her an “enormous mandate” by returning the DUP as the biggest party, he added.

‘Neutral person’

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy repeated the party’s stance that it will not form a government with the DUP if Mrs Foster is nominated as first minister before a report into the energy scheme is published.

He said it was about restoring public confidence in the institutions.

Mr Murphy also made it clear that the secretary of state was not the best person to broker the talks, as he was not a “neutral person”.

The DUP went into the election 10-seats ahead of Sinn Féin and while it remains the largest party with 28 seats, it now has a margin of just one seat over Sinn Féin.

Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing agreement, the government must be run by Irish nationalists and unionists together, and Sinn Sinn Féin and the DUP now have three weeks to reach a deal.

If a government cannot be formed within that time then, under law, another election will be called.

Ultimately, if no power-sharing government is formed, devolved power could return to the UK parliament at Westminster for the first time in a decade.

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