Ehere’s some news! For the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1921, a nationalist party in favor of the reunification of the island came first in the elections in Northern Ireland. And not just any nationalist party: Sinn Fein, long considered by many to be the political wing of the Provisional IRA.
Sinn Fein is now entitled to claim the post of head of the two-headed executive created by the 1998 peace agreement, known as Good Friday, while its main rival, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which is also, to complicate matters, his coalition partner for fifteen years -, will have to be content with that of Deputy Prime Minister. In reality, both positions are equal. The titles of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were a device for the Unionists to hide the fact that, with the sharing of power, they no longer governed alone. Sinn Fein has never missed an opportunity to point out that these positions were equivalent, but now that it has come first, it seems to want to believe in this artifice itself.
Sinn Fein came first, but did not progress in terms of seats. It became the first party because the DUP, which quit the outgoing executive in protest at the Northern Irish Brexit Protocol [qui maintient la province britannique dans le marché unique et l’union douanière européenne]fell by almost 7% and lost three members of the Legislative Assembly, which makes it two seats less than Sinn Fein, compared to one seat more during the previous legislature.
In terms of number of seats, the big winner was the non-denominational Alliance party, which more than doubled the number of its elected representatives, from eight to seventeen. Some polls carried out in the last days of the campaign gave Alliance a tie with the DUP, but, even if this formation had come second, it could not have claimed one of the two key positions in the executive. Under the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006 – negotiated between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP – coalition partners can only come from the ranks of the main formations classified as “nationalist”, “ unionist” or “other”. The Alliance party prides itself on being in the “other” category, but it does not have the seats or the allies necessary to constitute a majority.
A cynical mind might say that sworn enemies Sinn Fein and the DUP have decided in St. Andrews to give themselves a permanent advantage.
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