He detailed the supporters of the merger
The pro-Ireland and Catholic-backed Sinn Féin party (translated as “ourselves”) has won the Northern Ireland Assembly election for the first time in history. Representatives of this nationalist party are guaranteed to get 27 out of 90 seats in parliament.
This is two more than the Protestant-based “Democratic Unity Party” (DUP), which advocates the preservation of Ulster (a state in the north of the island of Ireland) as part of the United Kingdom. At the same time, London and supporters of the union will also be represented in parliament through the “Ulster Unionist Party” and the “Traditional Unionist Voice” (1 seat), which will receive 9 seats.
One of the reasons for the Nationalists’ victory was precisely because the Unionist electorate was split between several parties, whereas Sinn Féin was a monolithic power.
Oleg Okhoshin, senior researcher at the Center for British Studies at the European Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told socialbites.ca.
At the same time, the birth rate among Catholics has already caught up with that among Protestants and will even exceed that among Protestants over the years, meaning that the Sinn Féin electoral base will only grow in the future, the expert said.
The liberal party “Alliance”, which aims to go beyond the traditional confrontation and proposes to seek a “third way”, confidently took the third place (13.5%, 17 seats).
Sinn Féin’s historic victory sees its leader Michel O’Neill take over as First Minister for the first time. However, according to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 (aka the Good Friday Agreement), which put an end to the armed conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the government is formed in a proportionate manner, taking into account the interests of all communities. And therefore the First Deputy Minister, who must represent the opposition party, is equally responsible for the government (dual power).
At the same time, the Council of Ministers will not be able to take office if either of the two parties with the most seats in the Assembly refuses to enter the government. The DUP has already promised not to do so, at least if the revision of the Northern Ireland Protocol that comes out after Brexit is not on the agenda.
Loyalists see it as a betrayal of London, where customs rules essentially leave Northern Ireland in the European Union and the border of goods runs along the Irish Sea. Also, there are no limits for the movement of citizens on the island of Ireland. Unionists believe that the terms of the protocol contributed to the growth of separatist feelings in the region.
If the executive is not formed, new elections should be declared in Northern Ireland, which will be held within 12 weeks.
Return to home port
According to Oleg Okhoshin, the reasons for Sinn Fein’s victory should be sought in the failures of the trade unionists.
The “Democratic Unity Party” has discredited itself several times lately. In 2017, there was a major corruption scandal involving their leader, Arlene Foster. The Northern Ireland government then ran a large-scale program to promote alternative energy sources and compensated local entrepreneurs for their use. But then major corruption schemes came to light when money was allocated from the local budget (£500m was set aside for the programme). During the trial, it was revealed that Foster was involved in this incident. This led to a deep government crisis from 2017 to 2020, with parts of the parliament not wanting to attend the meetings.
Constant scandals against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Only in February 2022 a new one appeared – Edwin Puts, then Minister of Agriculture of Northern Ireland, refused to check goods from other ports in the UK, as requested by Brussels. After that, Northern Ireland’s first minister, Paul Givan, left the government, and disagreements between Unionist leader Geoffrey Donaldson and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intensified. First, he suggested that Johnson would take a tougher stance against Brussels and demand a revision of the Northern Ireland protocol, but that did not happen,” says the expert.
The key to the Sinn Féin program is to unite with the main part of the island, the independent Republic of Ireland. Moreover, this party operates on both sides of the border and is now the main opposition force in the Irish Parliament.
Thus, the party changed the usual political landscape there, while the moderate Irish movements Fianna Foyle and Fine Gael were in power.
Representatives of Sinn Fein are accused of long-term collaboration with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is acting in terroristic ways. Open conflict between supporters of a united Britain and separatists in Northern Ireland lasted almost the entire second half of the 20th century, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries. The IRA formally ended the armed struggle after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, in which its fighters received amnesty.
The victory of supporters of a united Ireland in local elections in the north of the island makes the question of the breakup of the United Kingdom constitutionally urgent. And while British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab dismisses the possibility of such a scenario, Michelle O’Neill openly says it’s time to discuss one candidate: “Let’s have a healthy discussion about what our future will look like.”
The politician believes that a referendum on unification could be held within the next ten years.
Under the same 1998 agreement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Northern Ireland (London Minister responsible for the issue) has the right to call a referendum if it turns out that the majority of the citizens of the two republics want Ireland to be unified. So far, according to polls, less than half of Ulster want it, but the majority in the Republic of Ireland.
According to Oleg Okhoshin, the victory of the nationalists in Northern Ireland could greatly affect the disintegration process in the UK.
“Never in history has there been Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin First Minister. Sinn Féin’s popularity is growing in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and they are gaining more support among the island’s population to demand a merger vote.
But technically, this requires London’s approval. And the central government does not benefit from the disintegration of the state and can simply slow the process down.
The same applies to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales. So the main effect of this victory is that Sinn Fein will indeed actively demand a vote on the unification of the island,” Ohoshin is sure.
At the same time, according to the expert, in the near future it will be difficult to hold a referendum for a number of reasons. Among them is the aforementioned difficulty of approving procedure through the British authorities when Sinn Féin refuses to act by unconstitutional means.
“They will not violate the Belfast Agreement and they will not confront the central government. Also, Sinn Fein will continue to provide significant resistance at the autonomous level, it is inherent in the political system of this region. “The leader of the unionists is not considering forming a coalition government, although it is technically possible,” he said.
But Northern Ireland’s drive to secede from the United Kingdom, supported by electoral success, could rekindle the problem in Scotland, where secessionists are demanding a second independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon, the region’s first minister, was inspired by the results of the elections and said that Sinn Féin’s victory puts Britain’s future “as a political entity” a big question mark.
“London is asked questions in Scotland, Northern Ireland is asked in Wales. I think we will see some fundamental changes in the management of England in the years to come, and I think one of those changes will be the independence of Scotland,” Sturgeon threatened.