Sinn Fein win key political victory in Northern Ireland – Reuters
Frustration over government paralysis in Belfast has led to political change at the ballot box, experts say
The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has emerged as the biggest political force in local government in Northern Ireland after securing major gains in local elections to overtake the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The result is being presented as a political backlash against the DUP’s blocking of power-sharing deals in Belfast.
Sunday’s vote tallies showed the party won 144 seats in 11 Northern Ireland councils, an increase of 39 councilors from the 2019 election in which 105 councilors were elected. The DUP, by contrast, stagnated at 122 seats – the same number it claimed in 2019.
“These election results are a positive endorsement of Sinn Fein’s message that workers, families and communities must be supported and that the blocking of a new assembly by one party must end now,” Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said on Saturday.
Under the power-sharing rules enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement – the agreement between Britain and Ireland on how Northern Ireland should be governed – O’Neill was to be named Prime Minister of Belfast after Sinn Fein triumphed in the Northern Ireland Assembly election last year. . The 1998 agreement largely ended Northern Ireland’s decades-long conflict known as the “Troubles” in which thousands of people lost their lives.
The DUP has been accused of obstructionism after spending much of the last year blocking the formation of a government in Stormont, neutralizing the assembly’s legislative power amid unionist complaints over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.
He now faces concerns that his hardline stance on paralyzing the Belfast executive has galvanized support behind the DUP’s political rivals – even prompting an op-ed in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph on Saturday that declared that the leader of the DUP “Jeffrey Donaldson has become the greatest Republican recruiting sergeant possible.”
“For trade unionism, this may be a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment,” former DUP leader Edwin Poots told the BBC on Saturday. Poots also said the 2023 election results show a need for more unity within a unionist movement that has recently suffered a series of political setbacks against nationalist elements.
This is a point on which Colum Eastwood, who leads the Social Democratic and Labor Party, agrees. “(People in Northern Ireland) are very upset that Michelle O’Neill couldn’t become Prime Minister. They want the politicians to get back to work and deal with the issues.
The responsibility for solving the Belfast government blockade falls squarely on Donaldson, Eastwood added. “Now it’s up to the DUP to deal with it.”
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