British Elections: Five Minutes to Understand Sinn Fein’s Victory in Northern Ireland

” new era. “ The results finally slipped overnight from Saturday to Sunday, and it’s historic. On Thursday, the Northern Irish were called to elect new members to their council. They chose to place a majority of the elected members of the Sinn Fein party, advocates for the reunification of the whole of Ireland. Great precedent: Since the creation of the British Northern Territory in 1921, unionists – supporters of the link to the Crown of England – have always been in power.

After a long count, Sinn Fein took 27 seats in Stormont’s local assembly on Saturday, with 90 renewed in Thursday’s poll, up from 25 for his unionist rival, the pro-Crown Democratic Unionist Party.

What did the British vote?

On Thursday, Britons were called to the polls for a full series of local elections. In England, there were more than 4,000 seats at stake for local councils in many urban and London agglomerations. Places were also offered to seize local councils in Scotland and Wales.

But it was undoubtedly the share in Northern Ireland that was most important, as the citizens were brought in to renew the assembly which was held in Belfast. Composed of 90 members, it legislates on areas that do not depend on the British Parliament, such as housing, employment, education, health, agriculture and the environment.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is also responsible for appointing the territorial executive, which must be made up of unionists (advocating the association with the English crown) and republicans (advocating the unification of Ireland). “The 1998 agreement, which ended the Troubles and established the devolved Parliament for Northern Ireland, provided for two leaders: the prime minister, who was the leader of the party that came first, and the deputy prime minister, who was the leader of the party that came second,” adds Maud Michaud, lecturer in British Civilization at the University of Le Mans.

What is a Sinn Fein Party?

In the past, Sinn Féin (meaning “ourselves” in Irish) was the political window for the paramilitary IRA. Even today, its raison d’être remains the reunification of the entire island of Ireland. By the way, the deputy head of the party, Michelle O’Neill, is herself a staunch Republican – her father was imprisoned for his links with the IRA. But Sinn Fein has evolved and taken up other topics.

Maud Michaud notes that he has built “an increasingly respected media image”. The lecturer, positioned on the left, notes that he is “more progressive” than his main opponent, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), and is “really very conservative”. If Sinn Féin has found itself in the news thanks to its historical victory, in fact it has “always had an important place, culturally speaking,” as the specialist recalls.

What will Sinn Fein win?

In fact, Sinn Fein’s victory means that party leader Michelle O’Neill will become first Minister (Prime Minister) of Northern Ireland, and that the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will take office Deputy Prime Minister, or Deputy Prime Minister. Concretely, they “have exactly the same powers,” Maud Michaud explains, “but the words in Northern Ireland matter a lot,” adding nuances. “It would be a disaster in terms of the image of the DUP.”

The two parties were often invited to work together, but so far the roles have been reversed, since Federalists were in the majority. “Currently, the DUP has not been able to decide whether to remain in the House if Sinn Fein wins,” the lecturer recalls. Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, reiterated this Saturday that his training would refuse to join a new union government without changing the British province’s post-Brexit status. Exiting the assembly, while the 1998 accords provide for an alliance between unionists and nationalists, would be a real political earthquake. This explains the reason for the intense scrutiny of the outcome of these elections.

Following the confirmation of Sinn Fein’s victory, London quickly called for a union. “Above all, what we want to see (…) is stability,” British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Sky News on Sunday. “We want to see an executive body take shape” and “the parties come together to provide that stability to the people.” Before meeting local party leaders on Monday, the British minister in charge of the province, Brandon Lewis, told the BBC it was an “important moment to show that everyone can work together”.

How do we explain this result?

That’s not much of an achievement for Sinn Fein – who often comes a close second – as a DUP haven. First, because of its very conservative position. Maud Michaud analyzes the DUP “is against abortion, against marriage for all…things that no longer resonate with a part of the population.” Another unfavorable factor is that the Unionist electorate does not appeal to a single party, because in addition to the DUP – which still commands the majority of the electorate – the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) and the Alliance also defend the association with the Crown from England.

The DUP’s loss of momentum can also be explained by Brexit. Because the majority of Northern Irish people voted against leaving the EU, unlike the Unionist Party, Boris Johnson’s ally at the time. However, “the pain of Brexit is clearly visible in Northern Ireland, with high prices, transport problems…”, Maud Michaud recounts. The “Protocol” is going with the UK, which includes in particular poor control of food and agricultural products. The DUP itself has been so disappointed with Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit that Northern Ireland Prime Minister Paul Geffan resigned last February, leaving the position vacant for several months. Now it’s Michelle O’Neill who is in charge.

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