(Belfast, Magherafelt, London) Ahead of decades of Unionist rule, nationalist pro-reunification Ireland party Sinn Féin won a historic victory in Northern Ireland on Saturday, ushering in a “new era” despite the risk of political paralysis.
Posted at 4:24pm
This victory allows Sinn Fein, the former political showcase of the paramilitary group Irish Republican Army (IRA), to appoint a local prime minister for the first time in the hundred-year history of a province strained by Brexit.
As the lengthy count of ballots dropped in the ballot boxes on Thursday to nominate the 90 elected members of the Local Assembly comes to an end, the near-final results put Sinn Fein several seats ahead of its pro-Crown union rival DUP remain.
The head of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, 45, hailed “a very important moment of change” as we enter “a new era” and vowed to bridge the divisions. “I will provide inclusive leadership that celebrates diversity, that guarantees rights and equality for those who have been marginalized, discriminated against or ignored in the past.”
In Belfast, the census gives Sinn Fein 27 of the 88 declared seats, versus 24 for the DUP. He also received the most first votes (29% vs. 21.3%).
Earlier in the day, the DUP, through its leader Jeffrey Donaldson, had admitted that Sinn Féin was on the verge of becoming the new dominant party in the assembly.
According to the 1998 peace agreement, the government is to be led jointly by nationalists and unionists.
But talks to form a government promise to be difficult and there is a risk of paralysis as unionists refuse to join a government as long as post-Brexit tariff controls remain in place, which they say threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom.United .
“I want a government in Northern Ireland, but it needs to be on solid foundations,” stressed Mr Donaldson, regretting that the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated by London and the EU is damaging to the province’s “economy” and its “political stability”.
Another party tenor, Edwin Poots, warned that negotiations would take “weeks, with any luck or even months” while Britain’s provincial minister, Brandon Lewis, is expected in Belfast soon.
“People have spoken and now it’s our job to show up. I expect others to do the same,” said Michelle O’Neill.
Calling for a “healthy debate” on Northern Ireland’s future, she said the new executive should prioritize tackling the rising cost of living after a campaign in which she insisted on social and societal issues rather than constitutional issues.
In a statement, Brandon Lewis urged all parties to form a “fully operational” executive branch “as soon as possible”.
Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin stressed that “all political parties and elected officials have a duty to serve the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland”.
Marked by three decades of bloody unrest between Unionists and Republicans, then Brexit-induced turmoil, Northern Ireland plunged back into uncertainty in February with the resignation of Unionist Prime Minister Paul Givan, unhappy with the post-Brexit situation. This automatically led to the departure of Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill.
“Sinn Fein’s success benefits from the weakness of unionism […] It does not represent a radical change of mind in Northern Ireland in favor of reunification,” analyzes Katy Hayward, a political scientist at Queen’s University in Belfast, for AFP.
It also notes a split in union votes and the advance of the centrist Alliance party (17 seats).
Setback for Boris Johnson
Elsewhere in the UK, where local elections were held on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party suffered a severe setback, undermined by ‘Partygate’ and inflation. She lost hundreds of seats and a dozen councils to Labor and the Liberal Democrats.
Boris Johnson has said he is determined to remain in power. But those poor results weaken him, forcing MPs from his camp, concerned about the 2024 general election, to question the advisability of continuing to support him.
To convince, Boris Johnson must offer “a real plan of action” during Tuesday’s traditional Throne Speech, in which the government will unveil its priorities in Parliament, said Simon Usherwood, a political scientist at the Open University who was interviewed by AFP.