Julian Smith calls for NI Assembly election to be delayed

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

Julian SmithImage source, Getty Images/Dan Kitwood
Image caption,
Julian Smith said serving the people of Northern Ireland had been "the biggest privilege"

A former secretary of state has suggested the next assembly election in Northern Ireland should be delayed by a year.

Julian Smith was appearing before a Westminster committee that is scrutinising the New Decade New Approach deal.

It ended three years of deadlock at Stormont and provided an extra £1bn in funding for Northern Ireland.

The next assembly election is due to take place in May 2022.

Mr Smith was sacked by the prime minister during a cabinet reshuffle in February.

He told the NI Affairs Committee that he had "no hard feelings" towards Boris Johnson for removing him from post and insisted it had been a pleasure to serve in Northern Ireland.

Image source, Charles McQuillan
Image caption,
Julian Smith and Simon Coveney faced accusations of bouncing the Stormont parties into agreeing a power-sharing deal

Addressing the issues caused by the Covid-19 crisis, Mr Smith said there was now an argument to be "carefully considered" for pushing back the next assembly election to 2023.

"I do think it's in everybody's interests that we get all the parties that took part in this deal to work together for a good three years to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and then they can lay out their stall at the next election," he told MPs.

More time is needed to tackle educational inequality and housing shortages once the devolved administration's focus shifts from defeating the infection, he added.