A former speaker of the Assembly has urged the government to call fresh elections, something he said could either strengthen Arlene Foster’s hand or see her deposed – either of which might help to break the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Lord Alderdice said he believed that the secretary of state had for some time been acting ultra vires by not setting a date for a Stormont election after the failure to form an Executive in the wake of last March’s election.
The government is currently facing a legal challenge to its refusal to call an election. That case is expected to be heard in the autumn.
Lord Alderdice told the News Letter that in his view calling an election was “the only current legal option for the secretary of state”.
The former Alliance Party leader said that he believed nationalist and republican opposition to direct rule could only possibly be assuaged “if an election was held that still resulted in a stalemate”.
A second impact of an election would be to clarify “what the people want” and that while some people believed that an election would change nothing, that “is unlikely to be true”, with recent elections around the globe being far less predictable.
He said that discontent at Arlene Foster’s leadership of the DUP “including at very senior levels” within the party meant that “if she were to perform well it would consolidate her position and give her confidence and others outside a sense that she could deliver something – no-one believes that now because of the debacle over the failed agreement with Sinn Fein. On the other hand if she did badly she would have to go and would either fall on her sword or be pushed.”
That meant, he said, that an election could represent either “the strengthening or ending of the leadership of Arlene Foster”.
A spokesman for the government said: “As the secretary of state has repeatedly said, the UK government’s top priority remains the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland at the earliest opportunity.
“She keeps all options, including the prospect of a further Assembly election, continually under review.”