How long can Northern Ireland go without a fully-functioning Executive?

The Stormont Assembly and Executive is in limbo following the May elections.

Northern Ireland went to the polls and voters had their say on the new Stormont Assembly on May 5.

However, as the DUP is refusing to nominate a Speaker or nominate a deputy first minister Northern Ireland remains without an Assembly or a fully functioning Executive.

Executive ministers remain in place from the last mandate, however they are only in place in a caretaker position.

What is the current status of the NI Assembly and Executive?

A new set of 90 MLAs were elected at the start of May, but they have only been in the Assembly chamber to meet once.

According to the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, the first business of any new Assembly is to elect a presiding Officer and deputies.This means that the Assembly has to elect a Speaker and deputy Speakers before it can meet to debate and pass laws, scrutinise the Executive and represent their constituents; the core functions of the body.

At the first meeting of the Assembly on Friday 13 May, the DUP refused to nominate a Speaker and therefore, in the words of the previous Speaker Alex Maskey - who can conduct affairs in order to appoint his replacement - "we can proceed no further".

Until the impasse around the Northern Ireland Protocol and the DUP agree to elect a speaker and deputies, there will be no Assembly.

It is a similar story with the Executive. For the Executive to sit in full there must be a first and deputy first minister.

Their positions are co-equal and one cannot act without the other.

The DUP are entitled to nominate the deputy first minister as the largest unionist party, and second largest party overall behind Sinn Féin.

However, the DUP are refusing to nominate until there is action on the protocol and therefore the Executive cannot meet.

First ministers are also required before new Executive ministers can be nominated and appointed by the other parties.

Minsters from the previous mandate remain in place in a "shadow" Executive. However SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has been replaced by Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd after she lost her North Belfast seat.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood refused to nominate a replacement to a "zombie Executive" from his party saying they have no mandate for an Executive minister.

How long will the Executive remain in shadow form for?

Under new laws that passed in Westminster in February 2022, ministers can remain in office for up to 48 weeks if the first and/or deputy first minister stop holding office, for instance by resigning.

These changes were made to help give Stormont greater stability and avoid a repeat of the 2017-20 period when neither the Assembly nor the Executive could function.

That period of deadlock was triggered by the late Martin McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister over the handling of the botched RHI green-energy scheme.

Could there be another election?

By law, the Secretary of State is required to propose a date for an Assembly election if the first ministers are not in place after four consecutive six-week periods of negotiation.

This means that if no agreement is reached by October then Brandon Lewis will be obliged to call another Assembly election.

That election would then have to take place within 12 weeks of that announcement.

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