The hold of Irish nationalists (mainly Catholics) over Northern Ireland is confirmed. For the first time in the history of this nation of the United Kingdom, Sinn Fein, the main party in favor of the reunification of Ireland, came out ahead in the local elections on Thursday May 18 – the final result of which has not yet been announced. been released that Saturday. In 2022, the former political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had already won regional parliamentary elections for the first time since the partition of Ireland (in 1921). The shock is severe for the Northern Irish Unionist community (Protestant, favorable to remaining in the United Kingdom), hitherto in a dominant position.
Some 462 municipal councilor posts were up for grabs in the eleven municipal constituencies in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein managed to elect 144 candidates (thirty-nine more than in the 2019 municipal election), especially in localities like Lisburn or Ballymena, in the East, hitherto considered unionist strongholds. In Belfast, the Unionists only hold 17 seats out of the 60 on the city council of the Northern Irish capital.
Also present in the “South”, in the Republic of Ireland (in opposition but increasingly popular), the nationalist party benefited from a strong mobilization of its sympathizers and from a basic demographic trend: according to the 2021 census, Catholics now outnumber Protestants in the nation.
Brexit has also severely weakened the Protestant community. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), the first party of this Northern Irish tendency, which had supported the referendum on leaving the European Union in 1996, certainly managed to maintain its level of 2019 (with 122 municipal councillors), but continues to lose the votes of the moderate unionists, who prefer to turn to Alliance (a neutral party from the constitutional point of view), exasperated by the negative and backward-looking attitude of the DUP.
For more than a year, the Unionist movement has refused to take part in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont Palace, preventing the formation of a government and undermining the Good Friday peace treaty that ended in 1998 to thirty years of civil war between Catholics and Protestants by establishing an equal sharing of power between the two communities. The DUP initially refused the Northern Irish Protocol on the grounds that it threatened the Unionists’ British identity. This part of the Brexit treaty guaranteed the dual status of the nation – it is British but remains partly in the European internal market to avoid the formation of a customs border on the island of Ireland.
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