The Unionists have lost their majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time. An election last week ended the overall unionist majority.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) now has fewer than 30 seats, depriving it of an effective veto in the assembly.
It entered the election ten seats ahead of Sinn Fein. But Sinn Fein won 27 seats, just one behind the DUP. The two main nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, now have more seats between them than the main unionist parties, the DUP and the Ulster Unionists.
In many ways the result is familiar. The DUP remains the biggest party. Sinn Fein remains the second largest.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, power must be shared between the biggest parties from each side of the sectarian divide.
Tory Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire is supposed to call another election if there is not agreement to share power within three weeks.
The most likely scenario is a fudge because the minister has to call an election within “a reasonable period”.
The Tories claim they have no intention of bringing back direct rule from London.
A scandal over green energy triggered the election. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme paid business owners to use fuel and cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
An inquiry into the scandal is not expected to make any findings for at least six months.
Sinn Fein has said the DUP leader Arlene Foster cannot be reinstated as first minister while the inquiry is ongoing. The DUP say Sinn Fein cannot dictate who they nominate to lead the party.
An alternative to the sectarian headcount came from the People Before Profit Alliance (PBP). Unfortunately PBP’s Eamonn McCann lost his seat in the assembly despite increasing his first preference votes.
He said, “It is a disappointing outcome. It was a vote that polarised, it was very much an orange and green election. It makes it very difficult for us.”
He would have won if the number of seats had not been reduced.
However Gerry Carroll was re-elected to the Assembly for PBP. Gerry said, “I am over the moon to have been re-elected.
“This wasn’t an easy election. It all began with RHI and the huge anger against Stormont. In the early days of the campaign the anger was palpable on the doors.
“However as the election went on it felt a lot less like the storming of the Winter Palace, and a lot more like Custer’s last stand.
“The election very quickly polarised into a Sinn Fein versus DUP battle. In that context, holding a seat and winning six thousand votes is a substantial achievement.
“We still have two feet in the assembly, but what really matters is the thousands of feet on the street.
“We will need that people power in the turbulent days ahead.”
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