The prospect of a united Ireland is becoming clearer

Sinn Féin, a nationalist party determined to take Northern Ireland out of the UK and into a united Ireland, won a historic regional election victory but could face an uphill struggle to achieve its dream Republican a century after the partition of the island.

The party long associated with the paramilitary Irish Republican Army won 27 of 90 seats in the devolved Northern Ireland assembly in Stormont, meaning for the first time a nationalist party emerged as the largest group.

The pro-British and previously dominant Democratic Unionist party won 25 seats, while the centrist Alliance party, which does not identify with either party in the region’s tribal politics, won 17.

Although Sinn Féin has anchored its election campaign on bread and butter issues, in particular the cost of living crisis, party chair Mary Lou McDonald said on Sunday the result should speed up planning for a so-called border poll – a referendum – on the future of Northern Ireland. status, something she wants to see in five years.

“Elections change everything,” she said. NewsTalka Dublin radio station.

Bill White, managing director of Northern Ireland pollster Lucid Talk, said his surveys showed a rolling average of 50% of people in the region in favor of staying in the UK, 37% supporting a united Ireland and 13% unsure .

“But if there was a poll at the borders, the campaign could change everything. . .[Sinn Féin]are going to push for one,” he added.

Sinn Féin’s victory gives Michelle O’Neill, its leader in Northern Ireland, the right to become prime minister in a devolved power-sharing executive involving mainly Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists, also located in Stormont.

For the first time since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, trade unionists defending its place within the United Kingdom have been relegated to second place in what James Craig, the region’s first Prime Minister, has a day described as a “protestant parliament for a Protestant people.

Sinn Féin was careful not to appear triumphalist, focusing on the establishment and functioning of the executive in the face of the DUP’s threat to boycott it.

Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the three-decade turmoil between Republicans fighting to end British rule and Loyalists fighting to stay in the UK, the two communities have shared power to maintain the political peace. Despite their titles, the roles of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are identical.

But the DUP says post-Brexit trade deals are disrupting trade between Britain and Northern Ireland and making the region a stranger in its own country.

The DUP has pledged not to re-enter the executive until the provisions are removed, and without the party’s involvement the government of Northern Ireland cannot meaningfully function.

British Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Sunday called for the parties to quickly form an executive.

But he asked for more flexibility from Brussels on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol which enshrines the region’s trade deals, and signaled that the UK government was ready to take unilateral action to remedy the situation if necessary. .

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Unionists pointed out that the DUP, along with the Ulster Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice, actually garnered some 17,000 more votes than nationalist groups in Thursday’s election.

They increased their vote share to 42%, while the proportion of nationalists slipped slightly to just over 39%.

Sinn Féin secured the same number of seats under Northern Ireland’s proportional voting system as it won in the last election in 2017, while the DUP lost three and the Alliance won. nine.

As trade unionists began an autopsy, the DUP called on the three main parties in its community to come together. “A divided trade unionism in 2022 cannot win the election,” Jonathan Buckley, a DUP lawmaker, told the BBC.

“Sinn Féin gets the prime minister because the Unionist vote is so divided but that doesn’t necessarily mean that in the people of Northern Ireland there is this inevitable push towards a united Ireland,” said Kevin Cunningham, master lecturer in politics at Technological University of Dublin and founder of pollster Ireland Thinks.

His last surveypublished in Ireland’s Sunday Independent, revealed that 51% of those polled in the Republic of Ireland, where Sinn Féin is also the most popular party, thought there should be a referendum – and 57% would vote for .

White noted that not all nationalists would necessarily vote for a united Ireland nor that all unionists would remain in the UK. Indeed, shifting cultural identities – and weariness with lingering divisions – helped propel the Alliance party into third place in the election, after fifth place in 2017.

A referendum likely to divide the United Kingdom would be based on Scotland’s desire for independence. Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, was quick to congratulate Sinn Féin on a “truly historic result”.

This highlights the risk that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now fighting on two fronts to preserve the UK: in Northern Ireland as well as in Scotland.

But a border poll can only be called in Northern Ireland by Britain’s secretary of state once it seems likely that a majority in the region would support reunification. A referendum in the Republic of Ireland would also be necessary.

It’s unclear how a united Ireland will work: Many voters in Northern Ireland are keen on free healthcare with the NHS, even though waiting lists for treatment are the worst in the UK Uni, and hate the idea of ​​paying €60 to see a doctor as it is south of the border.

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