The Northern Irish go to the polls on Thursday for supposedly historic parliamentary elections. For the first time, the nationalist Sinn Féin party seems to be heading for the win, according to polls. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and has been ruled for years by the very conservative and evangelical Protestant party DUP.
Sinn Féin is the former political arm of the terrorist and nationalist IRA. Today, it presents itself more as a left-wing Moderate Party and can thus lure moderate voters. The party also targets Ireland and is not pro-British, like the DUP. The party could appoint the prime minister in the event of a victory.
That post would go to Michelle O’Neill, who has led the party in Northern Ireland since 2017. She joined Sinn Féin after The Good Friday Agreement, when she was still in her twenties. He is too young to be labelled a terrorist.
The success of Sinn Féin can partly be explained by the changing demographics of Northern Ireland. For the first time, there are more Catholics than Protestants in the region. In addition, a generation of young Northern Irish has grown up who have not experienced The Troubles themselves. Many young people also want more progressive measures, for example in the area of women’s rights and abortion. In the United Kingdom, abortion has been allowed since 1967, but in Northern Ireland, the procedure was banned until 2019 unless the mother’s life is in danger.
At the same time, new parties that no longer identify as unionist or nationalist are becoming increasingly popular.
In total, there are 90 seats in Parliament. In the last parliamentary elections, in 2017, Sinn Féin was able to win 27 and the DUP 28. The difference was already very narrow at the time and now Sinn Féin would pull the longest end according to the polls.
The question is whether Sinn Féin will win the election. It doesn’t take much to set Belfast on fire again, it turned out in April last year. Then riots broke out especially in the Protestant quarters. The pro-British unionists are very unhappy about the consequences of the Brexit agreements.
During the more than 30-year Troubles, more than 3,600 people were killed and tens of thousands of others were injured. The conflict between mainly Catholic Republicans, who want a reunification with Ireland, and Protestant unionists officially came to an end with The Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Peace is more or less maintained, but there is no political stability because of mutual distrust. Between 2017 and 2020, Northern Ireland was without a government, and in February the government fell again. Then prime minister Paul Givan resigned from the DUP.
He opposed the Northern Ireland protocol, which the British government had negotiated with the European Union in the context of Brexit. That protocol stipulates that the rules of the European single market and customs union are still in force in Northern Ireland. In this way, a hard border with Ireland was avoided, but there will be a de facto customs border in the United Kingdom. The Northern Irish unionists reject any removal from Britain. The DUP has since refused to return to government unless the Northern Ireland protocol between the UK and the EU is amended.