Generous Britain gives Northern Ireland more time to reach power-sharing deal

The British government on Monday gave Northern Ireland’s largest political parties a few more weeks to clinch a deal on a power-sharing regional government, staving off the risk of a suspension of devolved power for the first time in a decade.

Northern Ireland politics has been in crisis since Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein pulled out of government in January. A March 2 election ended the majority pro-British unionists had enjoyed in the province since Ireland was partitioned in 1921.

The expiration on Monday of a three-week deadline to form a government raised fears that devolved institutions set up under a 1998 peace agreement might collapse and power revert to the British government in London. The last time that happened it took five years to re-establish self-government.

While no one is predicting the political impasse risks returning Northern Ireland to the violence that killed 3,600 people in three decades, it could increase sectarian tensions and freeze decision-making as Brexit approaches.

“I think there are a few short weeks in which to resolve matters,” Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire told reporters shortly after the deadline expired at 1500 GMT.

The main Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, triggered the collapse of the power-sharing executive in January and withdrew again from talks on Sunday citing multiple grievances with the British Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

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