Northern Ireland election: Sinn Fein on brink of historic victory as Brexit and cost of living dominate concerns | Politics News


Sinn Fein could be on the brink of a historic election victory in Northern Ireland.

If it wins Thursday’s Assembly election, an Irish nationalist party will have trumped a pro-British one at Stormont for the first time.

With Brexit having led to a sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the DUP vote is under pressure.

But it is not the only issue of concern in Unionist heartlands like Belfast’s Shankill Road.

“The [Northern Ireland] Protocol is big, make no mistake about it, but housing is the biggest issue here,” one man told us.

An elderly woman said: “I think the number one factor is the living issue, the electric and the gas.”

A younger man said he did not plan to vote, adding: “What do they do for my community? They don’t do nothing (sic) for my community.

“They only come around the door when they’re looking for votes.”

On the parallel Falls Road, an Irish nationalist stronghold, they are confident Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill will be first minister.

But Unionists could boycott the power-sharing government at Stormont, rather than allow that to happen.

Irish nationalists are confident Sinn Fein's Michell O'Neill will be first minister
Irish nationalists are confident Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill will be first minister

‘Stalemate has left us in dark places’

Father Martin Magill, a Catholic priest, said Northern Ireland could not afford a political vacuum.

His rebuke of politicians prompted applause and a standing ovation at the funeral of the journalist Lyra McKee in 2019.

He said: “I have to say my blood would run cold, I would put it as strongly as that, with the idea of stalemate.

“Stalemate here has left us here in some very dark places.

“If there’s stalemate… they provide a ground where the likes of those in organised crime gangs will flourish.”

In the last Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP won 28 seats, Sinn Fein 27.

There are two more moderate parties – the Ulster Unionists (UUP) and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

And Alliance, in the middle-ground, has seen its vote steadily rise.

The assembly got back to work after a three-year break
Voters will choose their Assembly members on Thursday

Irish unity referendum

Unionist (pro-British) parties have won every Stormont election for 100 years and an Irish nationalist victory would raise constitutional questions.

Freya McClements, Northern editor of the Irish Times, said: “It plays into the question of a border poll, a unity referendum, whether there should be a united Ireland.

“That’s a conversation that was put really firmly on the agenda by Brexit and that’s a conversation that is not going away.

“You will hear the DUP very vocal on this, saying if there’s an Irish nationalist first minister, it brings that border poll closer.”

With Brexit driving nationalist hopes of Irish unity and the sea border fuelling unionist fears about their place in the UK, it could be a defining election for Northern Ireland.


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