Assembly election date will be confirmed ‘soon’, says NIO minister

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A Government minister has insisted the date for an Assembly election will be confirmed soon.

Steve Baker, a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, made the statement amid ongoing uncertainty over whether voters in the region will be heading to the polls this winter.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris faced criticism for failing to set a date for a new election last Friday when a legislative deadline for calling one passed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While the UK government is now under a legal responsibility to call a fresh election within 12 weeks, it could move to amend legislation at Westminster that would either extend or remove that time limit.

Steve Baker told a Westminster debate today that an date would be confirmed soonSteve Baker told a Westminster debate today that an date would be confirmed soon
Steve Baker told a Westminster debate today that an date would be confirmed soon

Mr Heaton-Harris held talks with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney about the Stormont impasse on Wednesday.

Afterwards, Mr Coveney said he believed the UK government had not yet decided whether to call an election.

However, NIO minister Mr Baker told a Westminster debate that a date would be confirmed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"In line with his legal obligation, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will soon confirm the date of the next Northern Ireland Assembly election, as required by law," he said.

"Following that election, and regardless of the result, the Northern Ireland parties really do need to come together to restore the devolved institutions and lead the people of Northern Ireland through the challenging times ahead."

In a statement issued after his meeting with Mr Coveney, Mr Heaton-Harris offered no further detail on his intentions around an election.

"The UK and Irish governments continue to share a commitment to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland," he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I reiterated (during the meeting) my deep regret that the Executive has failed to form and the duty that has been placed on me."

Mr Coveney said he believed a final decision had not been taken.

However, he said he expected Mr Heaton-Harris would be providing clarity soon.

On Tuesday, the Northern Ireland Secretary pledged to provide an update on what steps he intended to take next in "due course".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Coveney said he reiterated the Irish government's view to Mr Heaton-Harris during their meeting that an election would be "unhelpful".

"We don't have clarity on a way forward as of yet, but certainly we're not going to have to wait weeks for that clarity," he said.

Mr Coveney added: "I made it clear that the Irish Government's position is that we don't believe an election at this time is a good thing for Northern Ireland, in the context of the pressures that families and households are facing now, and also in the context of the reality that we've had an election only a number of months ago.

"So, we discussed options and views on a way forward. No decisions have been finalised yet, but I don't think we're going to have to wait for very long before decisions are made in relation to the way forward."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Heaton-Harris has acknowledged he has a legal duty to call an election but has avoided setting a date, prompting Northern Ireland's chief electoral officer, Virginia McVea, to apologise to election workers who are on stand-by to assist on the basis that polling day would be December 15.