By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Sinn Fein’s election as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly is a historic moment — the first time an Irish nationalist party, rather than a British unionist, has stood head of the vote.
With all but two of the assembly seats filled on Saturday, Sinn Fein won with 27 seats out of 90. The Democratic Unionist Party, which was the largest for two decades, has 24 seats and the Alliance Party, which defines himself as neither a nationalist nor a trade unionist, is 17 years old.
The result is highly symbolic. A party that aims to unite Northern Ireland with the neighboring Republic of Ireland has a mandate to take over the reins of a state established a century ago as a predominantly Protestant region within the United Kingdom.
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It’s a milestone for a party long linked to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that has used bombs, bullets and violence to try to wrest Northern Ireland from British rule for decades. of troubles. More than 3,500 people have died in 30 years of violence involving Irish Republican activists, Protestant loyalist paramilitaries and the British army and police.
A 1998 peace accord ended large-scale violence and Northern Ireland now has a government that shares power between British Unionists and Irish Nationalists. The arrangement was often unstable, but endured.
WILL SINN FEIN NOW GOVERN IN NORTHERN IRELAND?
The result gives Sinn Fein the right to hold the premiership in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, with the DUP assuming the role of deputy premier.
But it is unlikely that a government will be put in place quickly.
Under Northern Ireland’s delicate power-sharing system, the posts of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have equal status, and both posts must be filled for a government to be formed.
As Sinn Fein are set to appoint their Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill as Prime Minister, the DUP says it will not follow unless there are major changes to the arrangements post-Brexit border workers who, in his view, are undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
WHAT DOES BREXIT HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Britain’s decision in 2016 to leave the European Union and its borderless free trade area has complicated Northern Ireland’s position. It is the only part of the UK which has a border with an EU country. Keeping this border open to the free movement of people and goods is an essential pillar of the peace process.
So instead post-Brexit rules imposed customs and border checks on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK – a border in the Irish Sea, rather than the island of ‘Ireland.
Unionists say the new controls have created a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that undermines their British identity. The biggest unionist party, the DUP, is calling for the agreements, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, to be scrapped.
The British Conservative government says the arrangements cannot work without the support of trade unionists and is urging the EU to accept major changes. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to unilaterally suspend the rules if the bloc refuses.
But negotiations between the UK and the EU are at an impasse, with the bloc accusing Johnson of refusing to implement the rules he agreed to in a legally binding treaty.
The Northern Ireland Assembly must meet within eight days so that newly elected lawmakers can take their seats. Members of the Assembly will then choose a President, followed by the appointment of Ministers, starting with the Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers.
If, as seems likely, no executive can be formed because the DUP refuses, ministers from the previous government will remain in power and grassroots governance can continue – although ministers are not allowed to make major or controversial decisions. .
If there is still no executive after 24 weeks, a new election must be held.
IS IRISH REUNIFICATION LIKELY?
Irish unity did not play a big role in this year’s election campaign in Northern Ireland, which was dominated by more immediate concerns, in particular a cost of living crisis driven by soaring fuel prices. food and fuel.
But that remains Sinn Fein’s aim, and party leader Mary Lou McDonald has said a referendum in Northern Ireland could be held within a “five-year framework”.
The 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement stipulated that Irish reunification could take place if referendums backed it in both Northern Ireland and the republic.
In Northern Ireland, such a vote would have to be called by the British government “if at any time it appears likely to them that a majority of the voters would express the wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and are part of a united Ireland.
There are no set rules for deciding when this threshold has been reached.
Complicating the picture is the fact that Northern Ireland’s identity is in flux, with growing numbers of people – especially young people – identifying as neither unionists nor nationalists. This is reflected in the good performance of the centrist Alliance party. There are growing calls for power-sharing rules to be changed to reflect overcoming Northern Ireland’s traditional religious and political divide.
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