After the election of the North, compromises must be sought more urgently

The people of Northern Ireland have spoken – the question now is when will the politicians they elect go back to work? When the 90 members of the Legislative Assembly gather on Thursday, we’ll be looking for signs of hope – not the old sterile politics dubbed “whataboutery” by the late great John Hume.

The election has shown us that people want change, that they want to end efforts to reach the future by getting too caught up in this island’s dark past, and that they – above all – recognize the enormous potential of this island and feel their people.

After a century of strange existence, Northern Ireland voters have told us three strong things. First, Sinn Féin is the largest party, making it the first nationalist group with nominal authority to lead the power-sharing government in Belfast.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the “neither orange nor green vote” is finally emerging as the Alliance party won 17 of the 90 assembly seats. This party’s parliamentary strength is a tribute to years of thankless efforts by people who genuinely believed there was a better way of doing politics in the North.

Third, Northern voters have told us how divided the union section of the community is. In many ways, it was this split that opened the door for Sinn Féin to nominally take the top spot.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) handled Brexit very poorly, going straight back to the referendum campaign that led to the June 2016 vote. But it is not too late to adopt a more pragmatic position, in the interest of all.

But despite all these changes, if we look at parliamentary arithmetic, we see a great deal of similarity in party structure. The DUP and Sinn Féin are still the kingpins, as they have been for the last 15 years.

In this way, both parties are strongly challenged to make the power-sharing structures work. Since the DUP belatedly entered the North’s peace process in 2007, parliament and government have been idle for a long time.

This failure to engage and make tough compromises to serve people’s needs reflects pretty badly on both parties. This time around, Sinn Féin faces an additional challenge as opinion polls show she can expect to lead government in Dublin after the next general election.

For this reason, people in both countries will be watching Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and their colleagues. If they are to remain credible they must show both pragmatism and generosity to get things working in the North from this coming week.

Realistically, we expect a few months of bipartisan negotiations on the future government of Northern Ireland. This is the stuff of politics and infinitely better than the decades of sectarian violence many of us have endured.

But most immediately, we need a more encouraging tone to be brought to the government talks. We also need an agreement that gives more urgency to finding compromises. The citizens of Ireland – North and South – will demand it. After the election of the North, compromises must be sought more urgently

Fry Electronics Team

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