Politics

Northern Ireland Assembly election results

The DUP come out on top but Sinn Féin edges closer and closer to power

By George Cook

After the resignation of Martin McGuinness, former leader of Sinn Fein and one of the most prominent figures in Northern Irish politics over the last half century, due to the Renewable Heat Energy Scheme implemented by the Democratic Unionist Party which was linked to claims of fraud, the power sharing agreement was facing the threat of a failure that would have widespread consequences.

Developed as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, power sharing aimed to achieve a multi-party consensus in the governing process after a deeply troubled, divided and violent history.

The results of the election suggest a significant shift in the views and social attitudes of Northern Ireland and its people.

Whilst the DUP remain the dominant party with 28 seats, Sinn Fein are now only 1 seat behind and the Social Democratic Labour Party finished third with 12 seats.

Now, after a surprising election result, the two parties now have three weeks to form a new government and therefore a new power sharing agreement.

This election also captured the imagination of the electorate like few others, demonstrated by a turnout of just under 65%.

Arguably, this is because of the arguments against the renewable energy scheme and the links to fraud, especially after the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, refused to resign in the crisis.

In English mainstream media, the election has featured; but not to the extent at which many expected which is surprising considering the national implications of the election.

Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein, said Theresa May and James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, were at risk of repeating past mistakes.

These comments were not only made post the election, but also after the British Government attempted to reduce prosecutions of former soldiers from The Troubles.

The position of the British Government has, largely, been to assess the situation in a couple of weeks’ time when a possible power sharing agreement could have been reached.

However, if this is not the case then Northern Ireland could return under the ‘direct rule’ of the British Government from Westminster removing devolved powers.

Although some have argued that the DUP could simply govern because they received the majority of votes, this would culminate in a deeply worrying situation given the history around division and a lack of representation for different groups in Northern Ireland.

The complexity of this election is arguably far greater than any other. The DUP are an important ally for Theresa May and the Conservatives in Westminster meaning the situation is extremely precarious as the government do not want to appear to favour any side.

There is the real possibility, if and when we leave the European Union, that there will be a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic resulting in a more hostile relationship between the two nations.

This is a pivotal moment in the Northern Irish and also British history.

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