Liz Truss “joins the long line of British prime ministers who have failed people”, the Northern Ireland first minister designate, Michelle O’Neill, said following Ms Truss’s resignation on Thursday.
“We need all parties in the North to work together, stand up to the Tories and support people in a new Executive,” the Sinn Féin vice-president said.
Ms O’Neill was among politicians in Northern Ireland who reacted on Thursday afternoon to the announcement from Ms Truss that she was to stand down as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party following weeks of turmoil. There was also uncertainty over how the departure of the prime minister — and the timeline for choosing her replacement — might affect the October 28th deadline for the restoration of the North’s Assembly.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government at Stormont since the elections in May, when the DUP refused to re-enter the powersharing administration until its demands over the Northern Ireland protocol — which it opposes — are met. If it is not up and running by October 28th the Northern Secretary will be legally obliged to call another election, which Chris Heaton-Harris has repeatedly said he intends to do.
In theory, the UK’s new prime minister could be unveiled on the same day, with the Conservative leadership election due to conclude by October 28th.
In a statement on Thursday evening the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) restated the official position, saying the Secretary of State’s focus “remains on the restoration of the Executive as soon as possible.
“Legislation is clear that if an Executive is not formed by 28 October the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will come under a legal duty to call further elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly,” a spokeswoman said.
[ Northern Ireland Assembly election before Christmas not an ‘idle threat’, Heaton-Harris says ]
Speaking to the BBC on Thursday the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, said a Christmas election in Northern Ireland was “entirely a matter for the government and the Secretary of State, but I would simply say to them, given the current instability at Westminster, given all that is going on, they need to think long and hard about an election.
“We don’t fear an election, we will take our case to the country ... but at the end of the day an election won’t change things, it won’t deliver a solution, it won’t get us any quicker to the restoration of Stormont.
“So, I think the government need to think carefully and take wise decisions about what’s the quickest way to get a solution that restores stability.”
The Ulster Unionist leader, Doug Beattie, also warned against an Assembly election, saying Ms Truss should “act now” to make sure an Assembly election is not called until a new prime minister and new secretary of state is in place who “has time to engage with the political parties in order to work in the best interests of Northern Ireland”.
Other parties repeated their call to the DUP to re-enter government in Northern Ireland and said Ms Truss’s resignation underlined the need for a speedy restoration of the Assembly.
The Alliance leader, Naomi Long, said Ms Truss’s term as prime minister “was a disaster from start to finish and will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.
“This relentless chaos has yet again underlined the urgency of restoration of a functioning and reformed Stormont Executive.
“Whatever the outcome in Westminster of this latest development, our priority and our duty to people here is to get back to work in advance of next week’s deadline and deliver the best leadership we can for their sake,” she said.
The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, called for a general election and said “moving the deckchairs around the Tory Titanic will not deliver the radical change that people in Northern Ireland need in terms of support from the cost-of-living crisis, help to address soaring interest rates and the restoration of devolved government.
“It is far beyond time for a change of government in London and a new Labour led administration that will put an end to this disastrous Conservative rule.”