At election time in Northern Ireland there is a joke that goes around: ‘To hell with the future, let’s get on with the past.’ While that rings true, the upcoming election is in a league of its own because the voters are ready are to turn the status quo upside down.
For the first time in the region’s centuries-old history, the electorate looks set to return a nationalist party as the largest grouping, meaning a nationalist leader will be entitled to the post of first minister.
A turning point has been reached – the state, trimmed for a permanent union majority, is on the verge of change. Northern Ireland is in the process of becoming a post-unionist state.
This new reality will have far-reaching implications for both the region and the Republic, with constitutional changes inevitable over the next decade.
It is impossible to overstate how symbolic the prospect of a nationalist First Minister is for Northern nationalism. To that end, there are nationalist voters of a different persuasion ready to give them their quirks sense fine So on Thursday, Michelle O’Neill will be in line for the top job.
These revised circumstances will be confusing and worrying for some within the unions, and nationalism must avoid any triumphalism that will only add to their general sense of anxiety. The time after is a time of goodwill, tact and diplomacy.
Elsewhere in the election, middle ground seems to add to his vote. Allianz should have a good day.
Polls show Sinn Féin ahead of the DUP. Even if Sinn Féin loses a seat or two, it remains on track to return as the largest party. That’s because the DUP is on track to lose more MLAs. Last time, just 1,000 votes separated these parties, which have dominated politics in the North for the past two decades.
The DUP’s miscalculations of Brexit, which led to the introduction of a sea border, will cost the party dearly as union votes fragment. If people have the common sense to vote based on the DUP’s performance over the past five years – industrial-scale incompetence – it will lose royally.
The roles of First Minister and Deputy First Minister are shared, but the title of First Minister carries weight and its loss is a testament to the changing times. More evidence of transformation – evolution, not revolution – will soon appear when the latest census results are released, showing continued growth in the Catholic population.
Even if the 50 percent mark is not exceeded, this is further confirmation that Northern Ireland is no longer a unionist state.
In an attempt to shore up votes, the DUP’s strategy goes under Jeffrey Donaldson scared: Support us or it’s Armageddon. Unfortunately, he climbed onto podiums alongside shadowy figures that were basically TÜV election rallies. Horrified, elements within the trade union system are being pushed to other parties.
Under former leader Peter Robinson, the DUP was astute and strategic, but the party supported Brexit in the belief that it would harden the border – and achieved the opposite effect.
It has weathered a civil war of late, and fighting continues behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, new leader Donaldson has miscalculated by moving towards the lowest common denominator. So the election is likely to be a vote tantamount to a Sinn Féin First Minister, which the DUP will not accept (it will not, in Ulster Scots slang) meaning a six-month lull in which everyone will argue , followed by another election, possibly followed by direct rule.
Nationalism, opposed to direct rule from Westminster, is likely to push for shared authority between Dublin and London.
But here’s the thing. By refusing to return to the Assembly, the DUP is rendering useless the very state it professes to believe in. Inevitably, this will shift the middle ground ever closer to new constitutional arrangements of some sort.
Let’s pause to consider the DUP’s penchant for direct rule. Imagine choosing Brandon Lewis, who governs the North, over a Sinn Féin First Minister in tandem with a DUP Deputy First Minister. This signals a fundamental disinterest in bread-and-butter issues. Instead, ideology and supremacy are registered on the DUP’s scale of values.
If, after the election, the DUP refuses to engage with Sinn Féin and instead hopes for outright rule, it amounts to a failed state. For decades, Sinn Féin has been accused of trying to make Northern Ireland ungovernable, but ironically it’s now the DUP that’s looking to do so.
As a strategy, this is ultimately counterproductive for the party. But the DUP is essentially a movement whose raison d’être is union maintenance. She doesn’t legislate much (if she tries, she ends up with the money for an Ashes fiasco), and her only real policy is to stay in the UK and keep her influence there.
It will hamper the work of the institutions, collapse Stormont, share public platforms with sinister individuals, and play the bogeyman of Sinn Féin to foment bitterness and division – all in the name of this precious union.
Although the DUP has been seared by Tory double entendres in the recent past, it believes the Johnson administration will always protect the union. There is also consolation in the fact that Labour’s Keir Starmer is pro-union. So there is a feeling in the ranks that Stormont can be stored away for now.
Neither nationalism nor the middle ground want direct rule from London. Rejoining the assembly is the wisest course of action for the unions, if the DUP only knew. Change is upon us, and sitting at the table in Stormont – not floating on the outskirts of Westminster – is the best way to make an impact.
Finally, the election will give a gust of wind to the sails of the unity talk. This dialogue cannot and should not be silenced, but it is important that a post-unionist Northern Ireland is not automatically equated with watered-down Britishness, because that identity is obviously important to many and deserves respect.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/on-the-brink-of-change-voters-in-north-are-poised-to-turn-status-quo-on-its-head-41598187.html On the verge of change: Northern voters are poised to turn the status quo on its head