Sinn Fein on track for ‘earthquake’ victory over Northern Ireland, tops first preference vote

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Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, looked set to claim top spot in elections in British-ruled Northern Ireland for the first time on Friday, a historic shift that could bring the once-distant prospect closer to home. a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein won 29% of the first preference vote, compared to 21.3% for the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), indicating it was likely to become the first Irish nationalist party to win the most seats in the of an election to the regional assembly. since the establishment of the state in 1921.

“Sinn Fein on course to be prime minister is an earthquake” for Northern Irish politics, said Bill White, chief executive of polling firm LucidTalk. “It’s seismic.”

A Sinn Fein victory would not change the region’s status, as the referendum required to leave the UK is at the discretion of the UK government and likely years away.

But the psychological implications of an Irish nationalist prime minister would be enormous after a century of rule by pro-British parties, supported mainly by the region’s Protestant population.

>> Sinn Fein set to top Northern Ireland polls – but only thanks to bigger DUP drop

Demographic trends have long indicated that they would eventually be eclipsed by predominantly Catholic Irish nationalist parties favoring the unification of the north with the Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Fein reinvented

Once shunned by the political establishment on both sides of the border for its links to paramilitary violence, Sinn Fein is already the most popular party in the Republic of Ireland, where it has carved out a strong three-year base national elections by campaigning on everyday issues such as the cost of living and health care.

He followed a similar path in the Northern Irish elections, where he focused on economic concerns rather than Irish unity to appeal to intermediate voters.

Northern Ireland’s complex system of proportional representation means the party with the most first-preference votes does not necessarily win most seats, but a number of analysts have said Sinn Fein’s lead was too important to take.

Final results are not expected until Saturday.

The Cross-Community Alliance Party also looked poised for its best-ever finish, the first time a non-nationalist or unionist party came third.

Committed to peaceful coexistence and political power-sharing in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998, which ended three decades of violence, Sinn Fein wants the planning of a poll border starts across the island.

“I believe Irish reunification and a new Ireland is the best opportunity for everyone living on this island and we need to talk about it,” Sinn Fein chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald told the BBC.

The main Nationalist and Unionist rivals are obliged to share power under the terms of the 1998 peace accord. But the DUP has said it will no longer do so unless the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s trade with the rest of the United Kingdom after leaving the European Union is completely overhauled.

“Until we get this progress I have made it clear that I will not be appointing ministers to the executive,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told Irish television RTE.

It raises the prospect of a stalemate without the election of a new government as Britain and the EU are deadlocked in talks over how to remove many checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the world. UK.

The election is likely to reaffirm that a majority of lawmakers in the regional assembly are in favor of keeping the protocol, which was designed in the wake of Brexit to avoid unraveling the EU’s single market through the open border. with Ireland.

(Reuters)

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