7 days is the period in which Sinn Féin’s nominating officer can continue not to name a replacement deputy First Minister before the NI Assembly Speaker Robert Newton would be expected to suspend business (probably on the morning of Tuesday 17 January). [May not even happen on the floor of the Assembly chamber in Parliament Buildings?]
The Secretary of State James Brokenshire has discretion about a ‘reasonable’ date for a new Assembly election. Thursday 6 April would be the last possible date before the Easter holidays. If the election falls on Thursday 23 March, that’s going to clash with this year’s The Great Big Politics Pub Quiz! If the Secretary of State convenes talks – or leaves a vacuum to encourage them to happen – then Thursday 4 May could be an attractive alternative. [Ed – May the 4th be with you!]
The number of MLAs elected at the forthcoming election will be 90 rather than 108. So at a minimum, 18 MLAs will not return to the NI Assembly. There will be a fierce battle for the last two seats in nearly every constituency.
Despite the fall in numbers of MLAs to be elected, 30 is still the magic number of signatures required to lodge a Petition of Concern.
So 30 is the minimum number of MLAs the DUP would be comfortable getting re-elected to the Assembly in order to be able to continue to lodge Petitions of Concern without the assistance of Jim Allister or the UUP.
With just 5 MLAs elected per constituency, selection strategy is vital as fielding too many candidates runs the risk of early eliminations if voters don’t transfer down the line for a party.
278 candidates stood for May 2016’s NI Assembly election. The DUP (86%) and Sinn Féin (72%) had the greatest percentage of candidates elected. Only half of the UUP and SDLP candidates were elected, and just over a third of Alliance candidates.
Not only is there a surplus of MLAs, but some parties will have a surplus of candidates with very little time to run selection meetings. Having had their lives disrupted less than a year ago, some unsuccessful candidates will not want to stand again.
There will be considerable tension between sitting candidates and any additional names parties run in constituencies. The DUP will obviously be seeking to minimise the number of candidates lost – and battling against any swing in public opinion – while the UUP will need to field enough candidates in the unlikely event that they can nearly double their result, but without losing ground.
There will be big decisions for the SDLP as they decide whether or not to just run a single candidate in Belfast South. There will be a fine line between realism, ambition and greed.
The turnout at May 2016’s NI Assembly election was 54.9%.
While the 6 outgoing MLAs outside the five main parties may be seen as being at risk in the 5 MLA constituencies, many will be campaigning as a voice of protest. Will People Before Profit oust Alex Attwood in Belfast West and pick up a second candidate? Do the TUV stand any chance of picking up disaffected DUP voters? Can Claire Sugden hang on in East Londonderry?
In the meantime …
- £85,000 is the estimated daily cost to the tax payer of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, a scheme for which there will be no investigation, no clawing back of money and no changes during the election period.
- Article 50 is likely to be invoked while Northern Ireland is in governmental paralysis. We’ll have no First or deputy First Minister to attend meetings [Ed – would they even be invited?] and lobby directly for Northern Ireland interests at the UK-wide Brexit strategy workshops in London.
- The new budget remains delayed, and the current budget runs out at the end of March 2017, leaving many organisations and their staff in limbo (and on protected notice) as departments cannot confirm funding. In the event no budget is agreed or set, the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance can set a budget not exceeding 75% until the end of July after which up to 95% is available. This will cause immediate cuts across government departments, particularly in external spending and funding with long-term implications for services.
- The Programme for Government with its 14 indicators remains a draft framework.
- Dealing with the past and agreeing how to resolve Legacy issues remain unresolved.
Candidate data via Wikipedia.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.