Sinn Fein’s victory in the assembly elections is a momentous one that will change the tenor of politics in Northern Ireland and pose deep questions about the future of the United Kingdom. It will further consolidate the party’s transition from its violent past and may incrementally strengthen the case for a united Ireland.
However, it is notable that Sinn Fein’s success came more from the failure of the unionist parties than from any great advance in the level of its own support. Overall, the nationalist parties lost ground, as the small increase in Sinn Fein’s vote was more than outweighed by the loss of the SDLP’s. The biggest winner of the election was the cross-community Alliance Party, which gained the most seats, winning votes from both sides of the community divide.
That suggests that a growing number of people in Northern Ireland feel that the constitutional question is for another day, and that their priority for now is to unite their society and to improve it by working together. Unfortunately, that sentiment is contradicted by the other big gainer from these elections: Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), representing the least flexible part of unionism, one which regards the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as a sellout for having shared power with nationalists.
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