NewsEuropeSinn Fein consolidates itself in the political scene of Northern Ireland

    Sinn Fein consolidates itself in the political scene of Northern Ireland

    His new victory in the local elections made the nationalist-republicans of Sinn Fein the big winners in the last contests. They are, for the first time, the dominant party both in the regional Assembly and in local government. A phenomenon that, in the future, could clear the way for a referendum for the reunification of the island of Ireland.

    Both Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald, the current leaders of this party, known in the past for being the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), prefer to talk about the future than the past.

    That future, built on the lessons learned from 25 years of political peace, achieved after the Good Friday Peace Agreement, proposes a transformation of Northern Ireland, the British region that sometimes seems so far from London’s interests.

    And judging by the electoral results of the last few years, led by these two women, the region has begun to turn more republican than unionist, the sector that has historically dominated Northern Ireland and wants to remain within the United Kingdom.

    However, for more than a year, the power of the Sinn Fein republicans, won at the polls, has not deterred unionists from restoring the Executive in Belfast. One that, by mandate of the Peace Agreement, must be a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

    O’Neill, the chief minister of Northern Ireland, did not hesitate to describe the results at the polls as “historic”, since Sinn Fein was left with 144 chairs in front of the 122 of the DUP.

    Then, the ‘BBC’ summed up the triumph “as a coronation instead of a competition”. At the same time, he explained that one in three votes went to the Nationalist-Republicans.

    In dialogue with France 24, analyst Jess Sargeant, associate director of the Institute for Government, stated that “increased their percentage of first-choice votes by 7.7% since 2019which shows significant growth for the party.”

    He added that “this success builds on the results of the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly, in which Sinn Fein became the largest party in Stormont. He demonstrates a steady increase in support that is likely due to long-term political trends rather than short-term factors, and is therefore likely to continue.”

    Far from the violent past

    The evolution and transformation of Sinn Fein as a political force is directly related to the peace brought about by the 1998 agreements, after more than three decades of violence in the Troubles conflict.

    With the passing of the years, the ongoing political peace, and the rise of McDonald’s and O’Neill, the IRA’s violence seems to have been buried. their leaders they have a more conciliatory, more positive attitude about the future.

    In fact, O’Neill has met King Charles III and attended his coronation, despite the fact that Nationalist-Republicans refuse to swear allegiance to the monarch and participate in British affairs.

    Northern Ireland Member of the Legislative Assembly Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein leaves Westminster Abbey in central London following the coronation of Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla on 6 May 2023. ©Phil Noble/AFP

    In that sense, it is a fact with a great significant charge. Sinn Fein keeps its ideology intact, but shows a position of moderation and respect towards its opponents.

    The deputy of this party in the British Parliament, Chris Hazzard, affirms that the peace process was the starting point for the evolution of Sinn Fein, which also prioritized a social agenda, with health and housing solutions.

    “We slowly built a political party that was a very important part of the European left. Our political program was feminist, progressive,” Hazzard said.

    The restoration of local government, the great priority

    Celebrating his party’s latest victory, O’Neill stressed the urgency of restoring local government.

    Legally, the central government in London should call new regional elections to restore the Assembly in Belfast, known as Stormont, which has been in vacancy for more than a year.

    But advisers to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak know that this option is not the solution.

    A new election is likely to put Sinn Fein back in first place, leaving the current equation unchanged.

    The unionists of the DUP continue to boycott and tie the restoration of the Executive to changes in the legal agreement for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

    The buried protocol of Northern Ireland, now known as the Windsor Agreement, more pragmatic than ideological, did little to convince the DUP, nor did the personal appeal of the president of the United States, Joe Biden, who led the events to commemorate the anniversary. 25 of the Peace Agreement.

    However, it is unclear what impact the election results will have on the urgency of reinstating a local government.

    “The DUP has not been electorally rewarded or punished for its refusal to re-enter power-sharing agreements, so it is unclear how this may influence the DUP leader’s strategic thinking,” Sargeant says.

    In this panorama, calls abound for unionists to qualify their ideological demands and reach political agreements that put an end to the government vacancy.

    Road to the reunification of the island of Ireland?

    The future for Northern Ireland, in Sinn Fein’s plans, necessarily passes for the reunification of the island of Ireland. What it means to “amicably break” the relationship with the United Kingdom.

    It’s also about picking up the story. 100 years ago, the island of Ireland was split in two to end ruling sectarian feuds, a breeding ground for a bloody wave of violence.

    The Northern sector, which identified more with the broad spectrum of Unionist, Loyalist and Protestant, stayed within the powerful United Kingdom. While nationalists, republicans and Catholics today form the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the European Union.

    Leaving the United Kingdom means a reunification referendum that, according to Sinn Fein, will take place in the next decade. They assure that, by then, they will have sufficient political strength, forcing London to give the go-ahead for the consultation.

    “It’s something that will happen in the next decade or so. Certainly, within my political life, there is no doubt. We will have the opportunity to not only have a referendum, but to win it and build an Irish social democracy,” Hazzard said.

    However, the expert Sargeant clarifies that “the Good Friday Agreement establishes that (the referendum) can only be called when it appears that the majority in Northern Ireland would vote in favor of reunification. There is currently no majority in favor in the Northern Ireland Assembly or in public opinion polls.”

    Although the party’s plans are focused on that future, there is no certainty that that political moment is just around the corner.

    Source: France 24

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