Politics Explained

Northern Ireland is about to vote for an assembly that might never meet

Northern Ireland hasn’t had a functioning government for almost half of the life of the Good Friday Agreement, writes Sean O’Grady

Tuesday 03 May 2022 21:30
<p>Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill meets voters at Kennedy shopping centre in Belfast on Tuesday</p>

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill meets voters at Kennedy shopping centre in Belfast on Tuesday

The recent 25th anniversary of New Labour’s election triumph served as a reminder that the Good Friday Agreement celebrates its own silver jubilee next year. Yet, because of Brexit and a variety of modern manifestations of the ancient “Irish question”, the future of the peace deal itself is in doubt.

As an intricate framework of mutually dependent cross-community structures, it was never designed to deal with the possibility that Ireland and the UK would find themselves in different economic zones, let alone the current scenario in which Northern Ireland finds itself in a place all of its own: the overlapping bit of a Venn diagram between the EU and the UK. The situation has given rise to irksome checks on trade, and is thus the biggest single issue for many voters in Northern Ireland and also the biggest danger to peace.

It now seems certain Thursday will yield a shock-but-no-surprise political moment when Sinn Fein “wins” the election as the largest single party in the Stormont assembly – albeit not with an overall majority and with unionists, taken together, outnumbering republicans.

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