Why local elections could change Northern Ireland forever

This Thursday, all Britons over the age of 18 are invited to vote to take part in local elections. If results in England, Scotland or Wales rather reveal Boris Johnson’s popularity in Northern Ireland, the vote will have far greater consequences than just a game of political chairs. Indeed, a pro-reunification Sinn Fein victory, which polls have given the lead, could redefine mapmaking in the UK. explanations.

Why is this election so important in Northern Ireland?

To understand the significance of this election, you have to look at the two-minute structure of the English election (we promise, we keep it simple). Local elections in Northern Ireland are different from the rest of the United Kingdom. “This is a regional election: 90 MPs must be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which manages all matters relating to the region, from agriculture to tourism, including justice, education and policing,” he sums up for 20 minutes Christoph Gilesen is Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Caen.

Thus, it is not quite the same type of election as in the rest of the United Kingdom, where local elections allow council members to be elected to local authorities, who have less power than the Northern Ireland Assembly. In fact, the latter appoints a regional executive, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, etc. The Assembly and the Executive are institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement (1998), which are an essential part of the peace process. “In these institutions, former enemies, Catholic nationalists and Protestant trade unionists, work together to govern the region,” Christoph Gilessen identifies.

What is a Sinn Fein Party?

Sinn Féin is a nationalist political party “whose main objective is the reunification of Northern Ireland (currently a territory of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland,” explains Christoph Gillesen. Although its influence is more limited in the Republic of Ireland, it is the second largest political party in Northern Ireland and the main confessional party of Catholics in this region. The party is sometimes criticized because at the time of the conflict in Northern Ireland (1968-1998), the political parade of the Irish Republican Army, a secret organization that carried out many attacks, notes the Irish studies professor. But today, Sinn Féin is a constitutional party that opposes violence. »

At its head since 2017, politician Michelle O’Neill. Since Brexit, Britain has made no secret of its intention to organize a referendum for reunification between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The only solution to the Brexit mess is unification. The question is no longer whether, but when holding the referendum on reunification,” she had declared in November 2019, on the occasion of her annual conference, baptizing “reunification time.” This Thursday, his party wrote on Twitter: “Today we can elect a Prime Minister for all. Let’s seize this historic moment. It is difficult to be clearer about their intentions.

What could change the results of these elections?

This is the first time in 100 years that opinion polls give Sinn Fein the lead in the local council with 26% of the vote, eight points ahead of its main rival: the conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP or DUP). party), a supporter of Northern Ireland attached to the United Kingdom. With only 19% of voting intent, the first party in the outgoing House found itself behind the Centrist Alliance Party and its punishment.

If Sinn Fein wins, Michelle O’Neill will become the leader of the local government in which nationalists and unionists have coexisted since the 1998 peace agreement. Although Sinn Fein did not focus its campaign on a referendum for reunification, but rather insisted on the crisis of purchasing power, “such a victory It would make the prospect of Irish reunification more likely,” Christoph Gillesen advances.

But the second option is also possible. The DUP has already warned that it will refuse to appoint a deputy prime minister and rule with Sinn Fein unless the UK government suspends the province’s special status after Brexit. “This will lead to a period of institutional paralysis for Northern Ireland,” the Irish studies professor analyzes. Polls close at 9pm GMT tonight and the first results will be announced at night from Thursday to Friday. Verdict in the next few days.

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