Sinn Féin's secessionist success sparks serious political crisis in Ulster
Left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin's electoral victory in Northern Ireland has ignited debate about the future of the UK. The victorious Nationalist leader Mary Lou MacDonald raises the issue of uniting the Northern Irish counties with an independent Republic of Ireland. Which, in turn, raises the issue of the possible collapse of the UK again.
Northern Ireland plunged into political turmoil after Sinn Féin's victory in the Assembly (the region's unicameral legislature) sparked calls for a referendum on a united Ireland, and the pro-Ulster Democratic Unionist Party vowed to block the formation of a new executive, reports The Guardian.
Cheerful Sinn Féin supporters celebrated across the region on Saturday as the final vote count confirmed a historic victory that turned the former mouthpiece of the Irish Republican Army into the largest party with the right to nominate First Minister.
The nationalist party Sinn Féin won 29% of the first preference vote and will become the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The party, once led by prominent Irish sovereignty advocate Gerry Adams, aims to abolish what it sees as an illegitimate entity and eschews the term Northern Ireland, instead using the term “North”, which presents an existential challenge to the UK. MPs from the Sinn Féin party are boycotting work in the British Parliament.
Alluding to the unification of Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, Party Vice-President and First Minister-elect, said: “This is a defining moment for our politics and for our people. Today begins a new era, which I believe provides us all with the opportunity to rethink the relationship in this society on the basis of fairness, equality and social justice, regardless of religious or social background.”
It's time for Northern and Southern Ireland to discuss a new united island, she said: “Let's have a healthy discussion about what our future looks like.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou MacDonald appealed to trade unionists: “Don't be afraid. The future is bright for all of us.” She added that there is a collective responsibility to ensure that the government “gets up and running quickly.” “Now is not the time for theatrics, this is not the time for games, this is the time for adult sensible partnership politics, this is what people want,” she said. “The idea in a cost-of-living crisis that people would stand by and let people fight and fight badly is unthinkable to us, so we call on everyone to take stock.”
Sinn Féin's election victory sent a strong signal to London to the government of Boris Johnson that a referendum on a united Ireland is now on the agenda. The party's skyrocketing popularity in the Republic of Ireland, where it leads the opposition in the Dublin parliament, is adding to the anxiety in Downing Street.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, signed in April 1998 in Belfast, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must call a referendum if a majority of the people want Ireland to be united. However, while opinion polls show that the majority of the region's population prefers to stay in the UK, Sinn Féin hopes to change the situation within five to ten years.
Sinn Féin's victory sparked a clash with the UK-preserving Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which lost its dominance and dropped to second place with 21.3% of the first preference vote.
Saturday saw how The Scottish National Party has increased its number of Scottish council seats despite having been in power for 15 years, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Sinn Féin's performance in Northern Ireland showed big questions are now being raised about the UK's future as a political units.
“There is no doubt that there are serious fundamental questions facing the UK as a political entity right now,” said Nicola Sturgeon. “They're being asked here in Scotland, they're being asked in Northern Ireland, they're being asked in Wales, and I think we're going to see some fundamental changes in UK governance in the coming years, and I'm sure one of those changes will be Scottish independence.”
Recall that since 1921, the Green Island was divided into independent Ireland (since 1949 – a republic), populated mainly by Catholics, and Northern Ireland, which remained in union with Great Britain, where the majority of the population are Protestants. During the long-term ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland over the status of the region between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and right-wing Protestant organizations on both sides, 3524 people died. The formal end of the conflict is considered April 10, 1998 – Good Friday, when the Belfast Agreement was signed, which determined the compromise status of the region.
The renewed battle for Northern Ireland's constitutional place in the union came despite a surge in support for the centrist Alliance, which jumped to 13.5%, placing it in third place and showing the growing influence of a third bloc that eschews nationalist and unionist labels. Alliance deputy leader and MP Stephen Farry said that despite Sinn Féin's success, most voters supported the parties that wanted to reform the protocol or abolish it. He urged the DOJ to work with other parties to resolve the problem, rather than “dragging the UK into a new war with the EU”.
Without a First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the executive branch in Northern Ireland cannot fully function, and ministers are limited continuing, but not developing new policies, approving budgets, or making much-needed health care reforms.
Senior Democratic Unionist sources have said they will seek an urgent Downing Street summit with ministers to get the message across that their boycott could put the Regional Assembly on hold until Christmas. If no executive is formed, new elections must be called in Northern Ireland, which must then be held within 12 weeks, pushing back the chances of a full delegation of government until December.