Sinn Fein Records Historic Election Victory

Party seeking Irish unification proclaims a new era
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 7, 2022 4:30 PM CDT
Party Seeking Irish Unification Records Historic Election Win
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill speaks after topping the poll at the Medow Bank election count center on Saturday in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.   (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, which seeks unification with Ireland, hailed a "new era" Saturday for Northern Ireland as it captured the largest number of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in a historic win. With almost all votes counted from Thursday's local UK election, Sinn Fein secured 27 of the Assembly's 90 seats, the AP reports. The Democratic Unionist Party, which has dominated Northern Ireland's legislature for two decades, captured 24 seats. The victory means Sinn Fein is entitled to the post of first minister in Belfast—a first for an Irish nationalist party since Northern Ireland was founded as a Protestant-majority state in 1921.

The centrist Alliance Party, which doesn't identify as either nationalist or unionist, also saw a huge surge in support and was set to become the other big winner in the vote, claiming 17 seats. The victory is a major milestone for Sinn Fein, which has long been linked to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that used bombs and bullets to try to take Northern Ireland out of UK rule during decades of violence involving Irish republican militants, Protestant Loyalist paramilitaries, and the UK army and police. "Today ushers in a new era," Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill said shortly before the final results were announced. "Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work."

O'Neill stressed that it was imperative for Northern Ireland's divided politicians to come together next week to form an Executive—the devolved government of Northern Ireland. If none can be formed within six months, the administration will collapse, triggering a new election and more uncertainty. While Sinn Fein's win signals a historic shift that shows diminishing support for unionist parties, it's not clear what happens next because of Northern Ireland's complicated power-sharing politics and ongoing tussles over post-Brexit arrangements. Still, Saturday's results bring Sinn Fein's goal of a united Ireland a step closer, though the party kept unification out of the spotlight during the campaign. O'Neill has said there would be no constitutional change on unification until voters decide on it. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald indicated Friday that planning for any unity referendum could come within five years.

(More Northern Ireland stories.)

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