Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 this election would have been held on 7 May 2015 at the latest. In May 2013, Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced elections will be held at fixed intervals of 5 years. Clause 7(1) of The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, as introduced in the House of Commons on 9 May 2013, specifes that elections will be held on the first Thursday in May on the fifth calendar year following that in which its predecessor was elected.
Under section 32 of the 1998 Act, the Assembly can be dissolved if a resolution to such an effect is passed by the Assembly, with support of 72 or more members.
Failure to elect the First or Deputy First Ministers
The Act provides that if the Assembly fails to elect either the First Minister or deputy First Minister within six weeks, an election is called. Since the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 this has involved the nomination to the posts by the largest party overall and the largest party in the designation which the largest party overall is not a member respectively.