Sinn Fein calls for debate on a united Ireland after historic election win

Deputy Chief Michelle O’Neill said the result ‘heralds a new era’ (Photo: Reuters/AP/Getty)

Sinn Fein have called for a debate on creating a united Ireland after winning a historic victory in the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

As the count continued through Saturday night, the latest results confirmed what had long been likely that the Republican Party would force the DUP into second place.

Party vice-chairman Michelle O’Neill said the result, which saw them become the tallest at Stormont for the first time, “heralds a new era”.

She said there should now be an “honest debate” around the party’s goal of unifying the territory with the Republic of Ireland.

Victory will not change the status of the region, as any referendum required to leave the UK is at the discretion of the UK government and likely years away.

But the symbolic significance is huge, ending a century of rule by pro-British parties, backed mostly by the region’s Protestant population.

Shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday, 88 of the 90 seats in the Assembly had been filled.

Sinn Fein currently has 27 seats while the DUP has 24, the Alliance Party 17, the Ulster Unionists (UUP) nine and the SDLP seven, with four more.

Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill speaks to the media next to party leader Mary Louise McDonald at the Meadowbank Sports Arena counting center in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland May 7, 2022. REUTERS/ Clodagh Kilcoyne

Ms O’Neill speaks to the media alongside party leader Mary Louise McDonald (Picture: Reuters)

The Alliance Party also had a successful election and will become the third largest party in Stormont, while the UUP and SDLP had disappointing results.

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie was elected in Upper Bann despite earlier fears of losing his seat.

However, the SDLP was upset when Deputy Leader and outgoing Stormont Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon lost her seat in North Belfast.

In her declaration speech to Magherafelt after leading the poll in Mid Ulster, Ms O’Neill said: ‘Today represents a moment of very significant change.

“Today ushers in a new era which I believe offers us all the opportunity to reinvent relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality and on the basis of social justice. .

‘Regardless of religious, political or social background, my commitment is to make politics work.’

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, right, and party leader Mary Lou McDonald after Sinn Fein dominated the poll at the Medow Bank Election Count Center on Saturday May 7, 2022 in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland .  (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Sinn Fein leads the poll at the Medow Bank election count center (Picture: AP)

At a press conference shortly after, party chair Mary Lou McDonald said that Stormont’s power-sharing executive must be reinstated.

She said: ‘We look forward to the creation of an executive, I look forward to Michelle O’Neill being appointed Prime Minister and having a policy that benefits the people.

“We invite everyone to take stock, breathe and really assess the enormous responsibility we all bear.

“Collectively, we have an obligation to get the government in place and to make it work.”

The DUP collapsed Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive earlier this year as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol, and pledged not to re-enter government until their concerns will not be satisfied.

Alliance party leader Naomi Long said nothing could be achieved without a government in Northern Ireland after her cross-party party’s electoral success.

The DUP, led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, will comfortably retain its position as the largest Unionist party despite a drop in its overall vote share.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the La Mon Hotel, Belfast, as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gathered to ratify Sir Jeffrey as the party's new leader.  Picture date: Wednesday June 30, 2021. PA Photo.  Sir Jeffrey was the only candidate to put his name forward to replace Edwin Poots.  See AP story ULSTER Politics.  Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The DUP, led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, will comfortably retain its position as the largest Unionist party (Picture: PA)

Speaking at the recount at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Sir Jeffrey said unionism “held on”.

‘The trade unionist vote remains strong, we are the biggest designation in the Assembly, I think there is a lot of payoff around the results and I’m very happy with how the DUP fared in our constituencies’ , did he declare.

“We’ve had a remarkable number of seats where people were predicting all kinds of negative things, so we have a solid foundation, we’re continuing to build on that.”

Asked whether Northern Ireland will have devolved government in 2022, Sir Jeffrey said: ‘Let’s cross all the bridges when we get there.’

He also said he would clarify next week whether he would return to Stormont or stay at Westminster.

Sir Jeffrey was elected at the first count in the Lagan Valley.

TUV leader Jim Allister retained his seat in North Antrim but his party seems unlikely to win any further seats.

Some 239 candidates ran in 18 constituencies.

Five Assembly seats are up for grabs in each of the 18 constituencies.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote proportional representation electoral system.

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