Political earthquake in Northern Ireland as Sinn Fein becomes largest party

Sinn Fein made political history after becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland.

After years of lagging rival the Democratic Unionist Party, with whom it shares power, the nationalist party has now emerged at the top with the potential to change the political landscape in Northern Ireland.

Its position as the largest party means a poll on Irish reunification is now much more likely.

RESULTS: Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA which favors Irish reunification, won 27 seats, which numerically means they can no longer be beaten by the DUP.

The results mean that Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill – who served as deputy first minister from 2020 – should be appointed first minister, a post the DUP had held for two decades.

Under the power-sharing system in Northern Ireland, the posts of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are divided between the largest Unionist party and the largest Nationalist party. Both positions must be filled for a government to function.

The premiership carries the same constitutional weight as an MP, but the move to Sinn Fein represents a symbolic shift in Northern Irish politics and could lead to heightened questions around Irish reunification.

However, under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, it is up to the UK government to call a referendum if it feels a ‘yes’ majority looks likely on both sides of the border. Opinion polls have consistently shown that most voters in Northern Ireland favor the status quo.

The DUP has previously suggested it may be unwilling to serve under a Sinn Fein premier, a situation which would throw Northern Ireland into further uncertainty and almost certainly guarantee another election.

O’Neill used his official victory speech on Saturday afternoon to send a message to the DUP.

She said the electorate wants politicians to get to work solving day-to-day problems, such as waiting lists for health care and the rising cost of living.

“And that’s why on Monday we all have to show up together,” O’Neill said.

“That’s why on Monday there is an urgent need to restore an executive and put money back in people’s pockets, to start fixing the health service. People can’t wait.

“I will take my team to Stormont on Monday. People told us during this election that they expected us to work together. People are right. »

A key factor in the DUP’s pushback in this year’s election has been widely attributed to dissatisfaction with Brexit and the Northern Irish Protocol, which has resulted in checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, disrupting trade.

The arrangement was designed to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the republic, which remains a member of the EU.

It was seen as essential to honor the peace process and avoid the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland, but some unionists believe it creates a barrier with the rest of the UK and undermines their British identity.

The DUP has also said it will refuse to join a new government unless major changes are made to post-Brexit border arrangements under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In February, the DUP’s Paul Givan resigned as prime minister in protest at the protocol, meaning O’Neill also automatically lost his post.

Reflecting on his party’s performance shortly after re-election in Lagan Valley, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said one of the “key messages…is that trade unionism simply cannot afford the divisions that exist”.

“The DUP is very much in the game at the moment,” he added.

“I have made it clear that we need the government to take decisive action on the protocol. Words are not enough.”

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