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Northern Ireland Sees Historic Shift After Sinn Fein Elected As The Largest Party

2 min read

Nationalist party Sinn Fein has been elected the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time ever since the province was formed a century ago.

The party, which supports breaking away from the UK and reunification with the Republic of Ireland, was confirmed as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Saturday afternoon when it hit the 26 seat threshold.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which had been the largest party in Stormont heading into the 5th May election, is set to come second.

While the unionist vote in Northern Ireland has splintered across the DUP and other unionist parties, the nationalist vote has coalesced around Sinn Fein, the results show. There has also been a significant surge in support for the non-aligned Alliance party, which does not take a position on Northern Ireland's constitutional question.

The historic result means Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill is in position to be first ever nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland.

However, it is unlikely that the result will lead to the formation of an Executive. 

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly said he will not take his party into government with Sinn Fein until the Northern Ireland Protocol, the post-Brexit arrangements for managing trade across the Irish Sea, has been replaced or removed.

The UK government and European Union have been negotiating how to reform the protocol since early last year, but they are still far from reaching an agreement.

As the second largest party, the DUP must nominate a Deputy First Minister to serve alongside O'Neill in order for an Executive to be formed. Under Northern Ireland's power-sharing system, established as part of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the largest unionist and nationalist parties share the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

The parties have 24 weeks to form an Executive. If they fail to do so Brandon Lewis, the UK government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will be obliged to hold another election within 12 weeks.


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