Is the finish line in sight? A guide to how we got here and what might happen next

14 December 2023 - by Adam Newton

With many speculating the talks to restore the power-sharing Executive and Assembly are in the final stages, we look back on a few key dates along the way, what has been discussed during the talks and outline the steps required to get the Executive back up and running.


5th May – Assembly elections take place. Sinn Fein emerge as largest party and are entitled to the First Minister role for the first time since 1998.

May – The Assembly meets on two occasions to form an Executive but fails to do so as DUP refuse to nominate a Speaker.

13th June – Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is introduced to the House of Commons.

28th October – Legislation that enabled caretaker Ministers expires.

21st November – The Secretary of State introduces the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act in the House of Commons to extend retrospectively the period for Executive formation by 6 weeks – from 28 October to 8 December 2022 – with the potential for a further 6-week extension to 19 January 2023.


9th February – The Secretary of State again extends the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, pushing back the date by which an election needs to be called until 19th January 2024.

27th February – The Windsor Framework agreement is announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Coca Cola Hellenic Bottling Company plant in Lisburn. It amends the Northern Ireland Protocol and aims to address concerns around trade and the Irish Sea border.

April – Events marking the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement take place, including a visit by US President Joe Biden and a visit by the former President Bill Clinton to Derry/Londonderry.

27th April – Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Act 2023 is introduced at Westminster. It gives more powers to the civil service and extends the period during which departmental functions may be exercised in the absence of Ministers.

18th May – Local government elections take place. Sinn Féin become the largest party.  The DUP (to most people’s surprise) return the same number of seats.

29th June – The Secretary of State confirms the Northern Ireland Budget Bill for 2023-2024 and instructs the departments to submit how they will allocate spend.

20th September – The Secretary of State again writes to departmental Permanent Secretaries directing them to launch public consultations on potential revenue raising measures.

1st October – The Windsor Framework comes into effect.

7th December – Consultation on water and sewage charges launched.

11th-14th December – The Secretary of State holds roundtable discussions with political parties on a proposed £2.5bn package conditional on the return of the devolved institutions.  Initially scheduled to conclude on 13th December, the talks have been extended.

13th December – In response to a question in the House of Commons from DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson, the Prime Minster said that the UK Government was prepared to legislate to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

14th December – Speaking on Good Morning Ulster Jeffrey Donaldson notes the DUP is "approaching the time" for a decision on returning to Stormont.  He further added "I haven't come this far to plan for failure," noting that the final stages of a negotiation could be "the most challenging", but that significant progress has been made with the UK Government. 

All eyes now turn to whether we might see a move to amend the Internal Markets Act before Parliament rises on Tuesday, which could create the necessary conditions for a restored Executive – possibly before Christmas.

 If talks are successful how does the Executive get back up and running?

  • A motion to recall the Assembly, signed by 30 MLAs, must be submitted to the Speakers Office.
  • The first step will be the election of a Speaker.  While there have been numerous recall petitions and attempts to debate significant issues, without the election of a Speaker they can go no further. 
  • Following this will be the appointment of the First Minister (Sinn Féin) and deputy First Minister (DUP). 
  • Parties will go through the process of selecting their Ministers using the d’Hondt method of allocation. 
  • UUP Leader Doug Beattie has not yet confirmed  if the UUP will enter the Executive or join the SDLP on the Opposition benches.
  • The process will conclude with the appointment of the Committee Chairs, deputy Chairs and positions before there will be the formal first sitting of the Assembly.