Talks over power-sharing to begin at Stormont

Posted March 07, 2017

When Foster's Sinn Fein deputy withdrew from the local administration, the UK's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire was forced to announce a March 2 election.

It is hard to know how influential the prospect of Brexit was in the hearts and minds of voters, but the majority for pro-Remain parties echoes the result in the UK's European Union referendum, where both Scotland and Northern Ireland took a pro-EU stance.

But whilst it is correct that unionism has lost its Stormont majority nonetheless, even after the surge in the Sinn Fein votes, a majority of 26,394 electors voted for pro United Kingdom parties rather than pro united Ireland parties - 368,159 to 341,705 votes.

The former Sinn Fein leader retired from politics in January on health grounds and is reported to be suffering from a genetic condition. The DUP has rejected this outright, but a Sinn Fein victory might force her to go.

The U.K. may have to reimpose direct rule on the region if the two biggest parties can not agree to enter government together again. "Over 22,000 more voted DUP than in our record breaking election last May", she said.

The DUP and Sinn Féin have three weeks to form an executive after last week's elections - or there'll be direct rule from Westminster.

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Britain's Northern Ireland minister James Brokenshire emphasised the importance of a "frictionless" border during talks in Brussels this week, and promised to "take no risks" with political stability in the province.

"We will vote in a post-sectarian election, but it's now clear it will not happen during the duration of my political career", said Nesbitt.

The election was called in January after Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, the biggest republican party, resigned as deputy first minister. Mr Frew admitted: "We have faced hard times, this has been a brutal election, and we were always going to find it tough to keep three seats". Whatever the bickering and wrangling to come, the parties can at least agree on that.

For the first time, unionists will not have an overall majority at Stormont.

In essence, the election is two contests, with Catholics mostly voting for parties which want a united, independent Ireland and Protestant voters largely supporting pro-U.K. unionist parties. "Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy".

The defeat means the DUP will no longer be able to use the "petition of concern" mechanism within the Good Friday agreement to block legislation to legalise equal marriage and makes a return to the power sharing deal look less likely.

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