|Unionists Dominance Ends. National Question on Agenda Again.|
by Harry Hutchinson
For the first time since the creation of the Northern Ireland (NI) state in 1921, Unionists have lost their overall majority in the province. After an increased turnout of 65%, up 10% since the last election less than a year ago, the 2 main Nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, hold 39 seats in the legislative assembly to the Unionist DUP AND UUP 38.
Seats for the Assembly (Stormont), were cut from 108-90, resulting in the Unionists losing 16 and Sinn Fein 1. The DUP remain the largest party in the Assembly by 1 seat, totaling 28 to Sinn Fein's 27.
Of the Unionalist and Nationalist voters in the Provence, less than 1200 votes now separate the two communities.
The election was brought about by Sinn Fein pulling out of the power sharing Government over a 'cash for ash' scandal. First Minister Arlene Foster initiated the scheme on 2012, when she was Enterprise minister which paid those up installing the environmental wood burners £1.60 for every £1 spent on the wood pellets. Hundreds of business installed several burners, partially poultry farms, scandalously maximizing the heating capacity to increase profits. Some business are due millions of pounds in the 20yr project, paid by the taxpayer to the tune of £460m. Five former presidents of the Farmers Union have installed several burners on their farms.
As First Minister Foster would not stand down until an inquiry into the scheme took place, Sinn Fein collapsed the Government, resulting in the election. Despite the fact Sinn Feins' new leader Michelle ONeill having organized over 50 promotional events for the scheme when she was Agriculture Minister, Sinn Fein demanded justice and an end to corruption.
The election became a rallying call to republican voters. With the DUP against the ropes and a new leader in place, it was an opportunity to make up for lost ground and previous disillusionment to strike at Unionism. It paid off.
Smaller socialist parties like People Before Profit saw their vote drop by almost 3000 in the republican heartland of West Belfast and veteran socialist Eamon McCann loosing his seat having only been elected to the Assembly 8 months ago.
The onus is now on Sinn Fein and the DUP to form a new Government in 3 weeks to avoid direct rule by Britain being installed.
The political landscape is now open for republicanism to pursue their United Irish agenda. Their objective of a boarder poll which could see a majority northern Irish supporting a united Ireland and linking up with a majority in the South, orchestrated by Sinn Fein throughout the island.
Such a poll will infuriate Northern protestants and will almost certainly result in a backlash from Loyalist paramilitaries. NI remains more divided than ever before. More dividing walls, (paradoxically called 'peace walls) keep hostile communities apart, have been erected since the Good Friday agreement than before. The province is a major conflict zone again moving towards volatility.