DrMichelle O’Neill, the leader of the Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland, has called for a discussion of unity with the Republic of Ireland after the regional parliamentary elections.
“Let’s all work on a common plan,” said O’Neill of dpa in Magiravelt, Northern Ireland. At the same time, she was optimistic that her party would become the most powerful force in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Sinn Fein is in the foreground
Vote counting continues until Saturday. Late Friday evening, when vote counting was temporarily suspended in Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland, the Catholic Republican Party, Sinn Fein, was in the lead. According to the BBC, the party received the highest number of votes after the first round of counting.
With 29 percent of the vote, Sinn Fein is ahead of the second strongest party, the Protestant Unionist Party (DUP), which has 21.3 percent. As Irish radio RTÉ reported on Friday evening, citing Sinn Fein circles, the party is confident that it will also win the most seats in the regional parliament.
This would be a historical outcome for that part of the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein was once considered the political arm of the ERA, which fought at gunpoint to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. If the expectations are confirmed, the party will be given the right to nominate the prime minister in the next unity government. However, the formation of the government may fail due to the resistance of the DUP, which will have to appoint an equal representative.
If, in fact, it became the most powerful force, it would be a turning point, at least symbolically, in the part of the country that belongs to the United Kingdom. Until now, the position of head of government has always been held by parties calling for the preservation of the union with Great Britain.
Will there be a referendum?
It is unlikely that there will be a referendum on the union of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland in the south in the near future, even with a Sinn Fein prime minister. The Secretary-General of the British Conservative Party, Oliver Dowden, stressed that London would not stand in the way of such a referendum. But the prerequisite is a permanent majority at the polls. So far, only about 30 per cent of Northern Ireland voters support it.
O’Neill stressed that as Prime Minister she wanted to address issues such as the rising cost of living and health. The formation of the government may fail due to the ongoing dispute over Britain’s exit from the European Union. According to the 1998 peace agreement known as the Good Friday Agreement, the most powerful parties from both sects must form a national unity government.
Northern Ireland protocol in focus
However, what is expected to be the strongest Protestant unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party, has already indicated that it expects London to confront Brussels again over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
British MP Sami Wilson, MP for the Democratic Unionist Party, has called on the government in London to introduce legislation allowing a breach of the Northern Ireland Protocol. “We have made it clear that the association cannot operate if the poison of the protocol is still in place,” Wilson told the BBC. Conflicting messages had previously come from London. Ahead of the election, Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis responded to speculation that a law could be introduced in a government statement read out by Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far reserved the option to scrap the agreements under the Northern Ireland Protocol through the emergency clause. This should provoke a strong reaction from Brussels. The protocol aims to prevent new border controls between Northern Ireland and the European Union member Republic of Ireland due to Britain’s exit from the European Union. Instead, goods must now be checked when brought into Northern Ireland from England, Scotland or Wales.
The DUP fears that this British Inland Goods Frontier will be the first step in the province’s secession from Britain. There are also distortions in some areas of trade. Although the EU is negotiating the technical details of the agreement, it has ruled out a fundamental renegotiation. A vote in the regional parliament on preserving the Northern Ireland Protocol is scheduled for 2024 at the latest. Everything indicates that the DUP will be revoked by the other parties.
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