After the historic election win of Sinn Féin in Northern Irelandthe London called today nationalists and unions to form local government to ensure the stability of the province, as the danger of a political stalemate looms on the horizon, Brexit.
Sinn Féin, which calls for the province to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, became the first political force since Thursday’s election to secure 27 seats in the 90-member local parliament. The conservatives of the conservative party DUP, who are in favor of staying in the United Kingdom, elect 25 deputies.
The victory of Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the Irish Democratic Army (IRA), allows him to nominate his own first minister (county prime minister), Michelle O’Neill, for the first time in a century of Northern Ireland history. The DUP threatens, however, that if its demands for Brexit are not met, it will boycott the new government, which, under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, requires both parties to participate.
“Above all, what we want (…) is stability,” British Deputy Prime Minister Dominique Raab told Sky News earlier today. “We want to see a government formed” and “the parties unite to provide this stability to the people,” he added.
Ahead of a meeting of local party leaders on Monday, Brandon Lewis, the British Prime Minister for Northern Ireland, told the BBC that this was “an important moment to show that we can all work together”.
Negotiations to form a government are predicted to be difficult. The DUP, which came in second after decades of union rule, refuses to join a government if customs controls remain in place after Brexit and calls on London to take action to abolish them.
“It is also clear that this stability is threatened by the problems (caused) by the Brexit protocol for Northern Ireland,” Raab said. He also reiterated the Government’s intention to renegotiate this text approved by London and the EU, which grants special status to the province of Northern Ireland, keeping it in the single market and customs union, so that “hard” Border with the Republic of Ireland and to maintain peace. Brussels, however, refuses to negotiate and proposes only some modifications. Raab said he preferred to negotiate, but did not rule out the possibility of London taking unilateral decisions to protect trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the “constitutional integrity” of the United Kingdom.
Dublin and Washington, however, called on the parties in Northern Ireland to share power.
Michelle O’Neill said there should be a public debate on the future of Northern Ireland, but said the new government’s priority was to tackle day-to-day problems such as rising living costs.
On the streets of Belfast, Northern Irish people interviewed by Agence France-Presse agreed with her. For Lauren Kane, 58, the DUP “committed suicide” because she was constantly talking about Brexit. “It was not what people expected from this election, as it is more worrying,” he said of the high cost of living.
Jordan Black, a 26-year-old engineer who previously voted in favor of the DUP, said it “may be a change for the better” because many political leaders are “attached to the past”. “If (Sinn Fein) starts doing things that help people, then give it more power, 100%,” he said.
Sinn Féin and the DUP have 24 weeks to find a common ground. Otherwise, elections will be held again. “Given the cost of living and health care crises, a government must be formed and then we can consider amendments to the Good Friday agreement,” said Katie Hayward, a political scientist at Queen’s University in Belfast.