Possible political earthquake in local elections

A century after its creation, Northern Ireland could experience a political earthquake with the Republican Party’s Sinn Fein victory in local elections this week in favor of reunifying the island.

The Unionists, who are mostly Protestants and closely associated with the maintenance of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, have been the main party almost always since 1921.

Ahead of the May 5 vote renewing Belfast local council, opinion polls show Sinn Fein, once in the political front of the IRA’s paramilitary army, winning by six or seven points over the Unionists. from DUP.

If this result is achieved at the polls, the left-wing Republican Party will take over as prime minister.

It remains to be seen whether the DUP will agree to take on the role of deputy prime minister and allow the local executive – currently paralyzed – to operate, because, as stipulated in joint governance under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of bloody conflict, One cannot function without the other.

In Newry, near the border with Ireland, a Sinn Fein sign declares “Irish unity” the “solution to Brexit”.

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill recently said the UK’s exit from the European Union, which the people of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for, had brought about a “seismic shift in society”.

– Post-Brexit tensions –

However, the party has been touting the prospect of a united Ireland in the near future, fearing the impact of the downturn on centrist voters and moderate unionists, who are more concerned about issues such as health, education or the cost of living.

In the Lagan Valley Circle of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, the red, blue and white colors of the British flag are proudly displayed.

The signs call on voters to put Mr. Donaldson first on their ballot papers, as Northern Ireland’s electoral system allows voters to create their own lists.

The DDF has consistently urged London to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit device that imposes customs controls on goods from Great Britain. Unionists view this as a threat to Northern Ireland’s standing within the United Kingdom, along with the advance of Sinn Fein.

Radical opposition to the protocol, the DUP ousted the head of the local executive with the resignation of Prime Minister Paul Gevan at the beginning of February. His departure mechanically led to the downfall of Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill.

The British government reiterates that it does not rule out anything in the event that negotiations with Brussels fail, including freeing itself from the terms of the protocol.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for an island-wide referendum on its reunification if there is popular support for it. But how this support will be measured has been intentionally determined only vaguely. So reading a possible Sinn Féin victory remains uncertain in this regard.

– Center Challenge –

Meanwhile, the DUP argues that the threat exists and is trying to mobilize its base.

Polls also point to a possible breakout from the center of nonalignment. “It is time to end this mummering around the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister,” said Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance party.

The coalition and two other small parties occupy 11 of the 90 seats in the outgoing assembly.

“If they come back with the election of 16, 17 and 18, it could cause a substantive renegotiation of the Good Friday agreement,” David McCann, a commentator for political website Slugger O’Toole, told AFP.

And so Jacqueline Hearst, a perennial unionist voter, who lives in the coastal town of Larne, intends to vote for the coalition for the first time.

The 52-year-old official confirms to AFP her concern about the consequences of the protocol. “A lot of things in supermarkets are already disappearing.”

But the dysfunction of the local executive branch due to the confrontation between the DUP and Sinn Féin worries him more. “We have to talk to each other, that’s the only way forward,” she says.

jit / phz / spe / bd / ybl

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