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Unification Between Divergent Ideologies. Ireland´s Example And What It Has To Teach Us.

Michelle O´Neill´s recent election as the First Minister of Northern Ireland in February 2024, has proven to be a long-standing and at the same time, energy-draining process.

From May 2022, when O´Neill had for the very first time achieved the majority of seats in the General Assembly, until the 3rd of February 2024, the blocking by the opposition party -the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)- played a major role in inhibiting her arrival to power.

The division of Ireland that took place after the Independence War (1919-1921) led to the creation of Northern Ireland, which remained under the British Crown and was made up of a Protestant majority, and the Republic of Ireland in the south with a Catholic majority. Nevertheless, the North remained strongly divided between separatists, represented by Sinn Féin, and unionists gathered around the DUP. Radicalism emerged, significantly from the formation of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in which Sinn Féin served as political representation. During 30 years of ongoing conflict known as the Troubles, the support for Sinn Féin did not stop growing.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 voted through a North and South referendum, marked the end of a bloody and dreadful conflict and the start of political partnership and cooperation to build a better future for the island. Among the numerous issues treated in the agreement, it is worth mentioning the recognition of people´s identities as “British, Irish, or both”; and the increase in party representation where the First Minister and deputy First Minister have to belong to the largest nationalist and unionist parties to always ensure cross-community representation and co-operation between the belligerent parties to the Troubles.

However, this seemingly steady solution brought about at the very end of the last century, did not put an end to all discrepancies in this territory. Brexit led to the revival of tension in matters of trade, especially between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. With the separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Northern Ireland -which is part of the UK- was left to wonder what was meant to happen with its frontiers with the Republic of Ireland, fear of going back in time to a conflictual situation like the Troubles, was the reason for the creation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which main focus was the establishment of an invisible barrier between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Therefore it can be assumed that the obstacle inhibiting the full exit of the United Kingdom was the fear of backlash when establishing the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that is why the first proposal known as “backstop” established the maintenance of Northern Ireland in the EU market and retrieving the frontier to the Irish sea (a hard frontier between Northern Ireland and the UK). In response, the DUP strongly criticized this proposition since it would mean the continuation of strong relationships with the Republic of Ireland.

By 2020 the Northern Ireland Protocol was created, it mainly aimed at respecting the Good Friday Agreement and therefore keeping an invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland while still keeping Northern Ireland under the EU market as well as in the internal market with the UK. This still displeased the DUP, therefore the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, focused on the establishment of the Windsor framework to achieve smoother trade between the UK and Northern Ireland. However, the DUP remained suspicious and rejected such a pact between the European Union and Sunak. Nevertheless, this reaction on the part of the DUP must take into account the majority obtained by Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland regional elections, to which the DUP responded by blocking the formation of a government in Ireland until the removal of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On the 30th of January 2024, the Unionists finally lifted their 2–years blockade to the formation of Government in Northern Ireland, Rishi Sunak´s proposal has no doubt achieved its aim, in addition, there has been established a commitment to pass new legislation in the British Parliament that takes up what has been agreed, and as Donaldson (leader of the DUP) said “reaffirming Northern Ireland position in the United Kingdom".

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