For the first time in the party’s history, Sinn Féin will be the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, following the recent historic elections.
Since Northern Ireland’s formation in 1921, a unionist party has always had the most seats in Stormont. Winning a total of 27 seats compared to the Democratic Unionist Party’s 25, has paved the way for Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’ Neill to become the North’s first minister – an unprecedented occurrence for a nationalist.
Speaking after the results were announced, Ms. O’Neill described the election as “a defining moment for our politics and for our people.” She went on to say “Today 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, on the basis of equality and on the basis of social justice.”
Elsewhere, 17 MLA’s were returned for the cross-community Alliance Party; a strong showing for the party, which more than doubled its number of seats compared to their last election campaign in 2017. The Ulster Unionist Party lost one MLA since the last election, eventually returning nine in total. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) also suffered a loss of one-third of their MLA’s, with eight returned compared to 12 in 2017. Another element of the latest election that is of note, is the rising number of female MLAs – with 32 returned in this election, compared to 27 in the last.
Questions now turn as to whether or not an executive can be formed. There has been no executive in Northern Ireland since February, when DUP assembly member Paul Givan resigned as first minister. This move had a knock-on effect for Michelle O’Neill, who also lost her position as deputy first minister as a result. The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described a new power-sharing executive as “vital for progress and prosperity in Northern Ireland.” The DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has thus far refused to nominate a deputy first minister, and until this has been finalised, an assembly cannot be formed. Following the election results, fears have grown in unionist circles that a border poll may be called by Sinn Féin. When questioned about such a prospect, the Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald said that unionists “should not be afraid.”
The discussions to try and form a Northern Ireland executive, continue.