Tánasite Leo Varadkar says he is “not convinced” that Sinn Féin’s landmark victory to become the largest party in Northern Ireland has brought the island any closer to a border election for reunification.
At a Fine Gael conference on agriculture and rural development in Tullamore, the party leader described Sinn Féin’s electoral performance as “significant” but added that “the big winners and real change come from the Alliance Party”.
The Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister told reporters: “The election is obviously a very good one for Sinn Féin, it looks like they are going to hold their own in terms of number of seats and be the largest party for the first time, probably better than expected for the DUP as it lost a small number of seats but not as many as predicted.
“But for me, when I look at the results, the big winners and the real change are certainly coming from the alliance party. People voting for an all-community party in record numbers, and they win more seats in this election than any other party.
“And if you look at the votes, actually the percentage of people who voted for one of the three nationalist parties has gone down, it’s gone below 40 percent, and the number of people who voted for one of the three union parties, has actually declined also it’s just over 40pc.
“So you’re seeing this growing middle ground now of people who don’t want to be defined by religion or ethnic or national identity and that’s really encouraging to me and I think offers an opportunity for a new North Ireland going forward.”
As the count continues through tonight, Sinn Féin is well on its way to establishing itself as the biggest Stormont party.
Today at 6 p.m. 79 of 90 seats were occupied. At this point, Sinn Fein had 23 seats, the DUP 22, the Alliance Party 14, the Ulster Unionists (UUP) six and the SDLP four, with one seat going to TUV leader Jim Allister and one to independent trade unionist Alex Easton.
Sinn Fein also won the battle for the largest share of the vote, with 250,388 initial preferences versus 184,002 for the DUP and 116,681 for the Alliance party.
That means it received 29 percent of the preferential votes, compared to 21.3 percent for the DUP, 13.5 percent for Alliance, 11.2 percent for the UUP and 9.1 percent for the SDLP.
The Tánaiste did not appear concerned that the rise of Sinn Féin could be repeated in the republic in the next general election in 2024.
“I think it’s an interesting challenge for them because they’re the biggest party in Northern Ireland, and they’re also the biggest party here in the Republic of Ireland, but there’s a big difference between being the biggest party and forming too can have a government and be able to build a majority and be able to work with people and bring people with you.
“It is now a responsibility of Sinn Féin to approach unionists, to approach the Alliance Party in midfield, to be willing to compromise, to make concessions and to form an executive and the role of the two governments of the UK government, and the Irish Government, should support the parties in this and we will do so.
Asked if he thinks the country is now a step closer to United Ireland and a border election, Mr Varadkar added: “I’m not convinced this election matters, but it matters, maybe take a little time to analyze their meaning and see what people are saying.
“It’s absolutely that Sinn Féin is the biggest party, they had a very good election, I congratulate them on that, but it doesn’t look like they won any seats.
“The reason they are the largest party is because unionists’ voices are divided. If you look at the nationalist vote, the number of people voting for parties that want a united Ireland, that want a border election, that vote has actually gone down, it’s down below 40 percent, the union vote is down too, and thus a growing middle ground, which is represented mainly by the alliance party.
“So if there was a vote in the assembly in a couple of weeks on whether there should be a border election, it would fail.
“This means that the Good Friday Agreement test for a border poll is not met and in fact fewer MLAs would vote for a border poll in the new assembly than in the last one.
“Well, it’s a much more complex picture than I realize, Deputy [Mary Lou] McDonald does it that way.”
Meanwhile, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said that nothing can be achieved in Northern Ireland without government after her party’s historic general election victory.
Aside from Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party is the other main winner of the election, with a surge in support for the cross-community party likely to make it the third largest in Stormont, ahead of the UUP and SDLP, both of which have had disappointing results.
Speaking at the Jordanstown Count Center after party candidate Patricia O’Lynn won the last North Antrim seat from DUP veteran Mervyn Storey, Ms Long said she was excited about what her party could achieve in Stormont.
She said: “We went to the electorate on the basis of strong performance over the past two and a half years.
“We have to get in there (Stormont) on Monday because without a government in Northern Ireland we can’t deliver anything.
“I think with all the challenges we’re facing, people aren’t going to forgive us if we miss this opportunity, so we’ve got to get in there.”
The DUP, led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, will easily maintain its position as the largest unionized party despite a fall in its overall vote share.
At the count at the Titanic exhibition center, he said the unions had “held their ground”.
“The union vote remains strong, we’re the biggest denomination in the assembly, I think there’s a lot of hype around the results and I’m very pleased with how the DUP has fared in our constituencies,” he said.
“We’ve had a remarkable number of seats where people have been predicting all sorts of negative things, so we have a strong foundation to continue to build on.”
Asked if Northern Ireland will have decentralized government in 2022, Sir Jeffrey said: “Let’s all cross bridges when we get there.”
He also said he would make it clear next week whether he would return to Stormont or stay in Westminster.
“The party officials will sit down, we will consider what we need to do now to get the necessary measures from the government. I will make my decision on all of this clear early next week,” he told the BBC.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie was elected to Upper Bann despite earlier fears he might lose his seat.
UMr Beattie said voters flocked to Allianz because they were “put off by angry, negative unionism”.
He said: “Coming from Upper Bann, I’ve had to make unpopular decisions towards the party as party leader and that may have affected me, but those are the things you go through all the time when you think of an election.
“People are flocking to people like the Alliance Party because they are put off by this angry, negative unionism.”
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill was elected at the first count in Mid Ulster, with Alliance leader Mrs Long leading the vote in East Belfast.
TUV leader Mr Allister retained his seat in North Antrim, but his party looks unlikely to win any more seats.
Sir Jeffrey was elected at the first count in the Lagan Valley.
Ms O’Neill was surrounded by party colleagues and supporters as she led the poll in Mid Ulster.
She said Sinn Fein wants to “work in partnership with others.”
“This is the only way we can achieve much, much more for the people here, be it in the crisis of subsistence or in the renovation of our health system.”
239 candidates ran in 18 constituencies.
Five parliamentary seats are up for grabs in each of the 18 constituencies.
Northern Ireland uses the portable vote and proportional representation electoral system.
https://www.independent.ie/news/tanaiste-leo-varadkar-not-convinced-we-are-closer-to-border-poll-on-united-ireland-despite-sinn-fein-election-success-41625583.html Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is ‘not convinced’ that despite Sinn Féin’s electoral success, we are any closer to the united Ireland border poll