Sinn Féin is the largest party in Stormont for the first time following the Northern Ireland general election.
In Northern Ireland’s 101-year history, no nationalist party has ever been the largest grouping in the Northern Ireland legislature. But Sinn Féin “ousted” the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which became the second-largest party, while the liberal centrist Alliance Party also achieved a “historic” result, becoming the third-largest party, the said BBC.
The results are a turning point in Northern Ireland politics. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a union politician has always been First Minister. So what do the results mean for the future of Northern Ireland?
As it stands, the Good Friday Agreement means that a border poll can be conducted at any time and convened by the Northern Ireland Foreign Secretary if it “appears likely” that a majority of those entitled to vote would “express a wish” for Northern Ireland to become part of a united Ireland. The Irish Republic would also have to hold a referendum.
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Sinn Féin ran an election campaign that spoke little of border polling, instead focusing on bread-and-butter issues like the cost-of-living crisis. Ahead of last week’s election, Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill said the people of Northern Ireland are not “waking up” and thinking about Irish unity, but “the pressure they are feeling right now” because of rising costs, the said Irish times.
But that doesn’t mean Irish unity isn’t a priority for the party. O’Neill said while her party’s focus is on the cost of living crisis, it’s “no secret that I want to see unity in the country.” The party’s manifesto outlines its commitment to a referendum on Irish unity and calls on the UK and Irish governments to set a date for a border vote. On Friday, Sinn Féin Chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald said planning for a unity referendum would come within a “five-year framework.”
But while Sinn Féin clearly achieved a “historic result” within a political system “originally designed to guarantee a union majority”, the election result “reflects no increase in support for Sinn Féin”, argued Peter John McLoughlin, Lecturer in Politics at Queen’s University Belfast The conversation.
Rather, the party has seen only a “marginal” increase in support since the last Stormont election in 2017, and the party’s progress has become “more spectacular” with the collapse of the DUP and “broader divisions within nationalism”.
The DUP “tested the patience of many nationalists,” McLoughlin said, by “opposing legislation that would support Irish-language speakers, supporting Brexit and then rejecting the negotiated deal.” Overall, Sinn Féin’s focus on “more practical matters” has served her “better than the DUP’s continued obsession with Brexit arrangements”.
And while it’s certainly in Sinn Féin’s interests “to give the impression that a referendum on Irish unity is imminent,” the lawmakers’ “math” suggests otherwise, said David Blevins, senior Ireland correspondent for Sky news. Although Sinn Féin will be the largest party in Stormont for the first time, “unionists still slightly outnumber nationalists in the assembly”.
Standoff at Stormont
Sinn Féin “might face an uphill battle to achieve its Republican dream,” Jude Webber said on the financial times. Republicans and Loyalists have “shared power to maintain political peace,” and the roles of First Secretary and Deputy First Secretary are actually “identical.”
However, the DUP has refused to re-enter the executive until the post-Brexit trade arrangements between Britain and Northern Ireland are scrapped and “without the involvement of the party, the Northern Ireland government cannot function meaningfully,” Webber said.
Despite Stormont’s history of decentralization ‘dominated by the twin blocs of nationalism and unionism’, the emergence of the Alliance Party as the third largest grouping in the legislature also points to a new ‘unified third force’ in Northern Ireland politics. called Live in Belfast.
The “huge surge” in votes for the Alliance party means the legislature now has “not two, but three major tribes — nationalism, unionism, and others.” And it suggests that for many, “bread and butter issues are more important than unions or nationalism,” he said The Atlantic.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/105650/how-likely-is-a-united-ireland Historic Sinn Féin victory: how likely is a united Ireland?