Northern Ireland had been dominated by unionist political parties that wanted to keep Northern Ireland separate from the Republic of Ireland yet still a part of the United Kingdom. However, in the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) elections, the Sinn Féin political party became the first nationalist party to have the most seats (27) in Stormont since Northern Ireland’s creation in 1921.
This historic win marks a new era for Northern Ireland with Michelle O’Neill taking the reins of First Minister, one-half of the leaders responsible for running the Executive Office. O’Neill is the vice president of Sinn Féin, formed deputy First Minister, and an activist for the reunification of Ireland. She supports issues such as gay rights and access to abortion while also tackling issues like the cost of living and health services, becoming a true public face for her party.
In a speech after her election, O’Neill said, “This day represents a very significant moment of change. It is a defining moment for our politics and our people.” She continues, “this day ushers in a new era which, I believe, presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, the basis of equality, and the basis of social justice. Irrespective of our religious, political, or social backgrounds, I'm committed to making politics work.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) came in a close second during the election, earning 25 seats, primarily due to the mixed reaction to Brexit, the global divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Due to the messy breakup, the Northern Ireland Protocol got established to protect the EU’s single market for goods and creates a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, still an EU member. This protocol also tries to relieve any tension that may arise between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, similar to The Troubles of the late 1900s. However, the DUP opposed this protocol viewing it as undermining their involvement in the UK and allowing for potential reunification with the Republic of Ireland.
With this opposition came the DUP’s downfall due to the protocol also helping Northern Ireland through trade benefits and potentially making it more attractive for manufacturing investments. However, while Sinn Féin has taken Northern Ireland by storm with its appeal to the younger demographics by focusing on topics like economics and health care, reunification still requires cooperation from both sides of the border and majority support from the public. The next election does not come around till 2027, but while Sinn Féin can celebrate its historic day, it will want to take advantage of its newfound opportunities in power.
For complete election results, visit https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-61363246.
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