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Northern Ireland’s largest British unionist party agreed to end a long-running boycott that left the region without a power-sharing government for two years and raised fears about stability in the once-restive territory, the Associated Press reported.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson announced Tuesday that the party’s executives supported proposals to return to a power-sharing administration with the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein.
The move could potentially pave the way for the restoration of the Belfast government within days.
DUP walked out of the government in February 2022 amid disputes over new trade rules following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union in 2020. Those rules imposed customs checks and other hurdles on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The checks were meant to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open – a crucial aspect of the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violence in the region. However, the DUP said the new customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK threatened its status within the union.
The boycott left the region without a functioning administration, creating challenges for decision-making amidst rising living costs and strained public services.
The decision to end the boycott follows months of inconclusive negotiations, as well as an ultimatum by the British central government to restore Northern Ireland’s legislature and local government or face new elections.
In his announcement, Donaldson said the DUP reached a series of agreements with the government in London, including measures to “remove checks for goods moving within the UK and remaining in Northern Ireland and will end Northern Ireland automatically following future EU laws.”
Even so, the DUP’s decision faced opposition from some hard-line unionists who fear compromising Northern Ireland’s status within the UK.
Meanwhile, the recent development comes amid changes in Northern Ireland’s political landscape following the 2022 legislative elections that saw Sinn Fein win most seats in the region’s legislature.
Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald is set to become the region’s first minister, while the DUP will fill the post of deputy.
McDonald called the potential appointment of Northern Ireland’s first nationalist leader “a moment of great significance” that will bring a united Ireland closer to being.