Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has directly intervened in Northern Ireland’s intensifying political crisis by emphasizing the importance of upholding the January 2020 deal that restored power-sharing at Stormont.
Addressing the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson said the people of Northern Ireland wanted a “stable, functioning and mature executive”.
The PM was responding to a question from former Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, who said it was “vital” that rival parties honor the commitments set out in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.
Raising the stakes in the British-controlled territory’s political crisis, Smith said the government should act as a “backstop” if the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin fail to make progress on a dispute over Irish language legislation and broader cultural issues.
Meanwhile, the serving Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, is hosting talks with Northern Ireland political parties with a view to breaking the deadlock. Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald, will lead a party delegation to talks with Lewis, as well as the DUP leadership, later today (June 16).
Speaking ahead of the talks, Lewis said: "We all want to see New Decade New Approach [agreement] delivered and there is a cultural, cross-community package".
"I want to make sure we do everything we can to ensure the first minister and deputy first minister can be nominated by the parties, which means they've got to find a way to agree a process”, the Northern Ireland Secretary added.
But finding common ground between Sinn Féin and the DUP is likely to prove a tall order as the former is demanding a standalone Irish language Act, whereas the latter’s new leader, Edwin Poots, does not want to move on the issue before the end of the current Northern Ireland Assembly term in May 2022.
It remains to be seen if in the event of a failure in today’s talks, the Northern Ireland Secretary will take the issue beyond Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions and instead legislate on the Irish language at Westminster level.