The final results from Thursday’s vote for the regional assembly in the north-east of the country has ushered in a new political era for the United Kingdom’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland. Regardless of what future arrangements are made for local government in the Six Counties the Irish nationalist community can no longer be ignored, disdained or denied. The conventional wisdom of the pro-union press, that political nationalism and republicanism was dormant or in retreat, has been overturned. As in Scotland or in other contested territories, the minority population has been given a pointed reminder of the power of the ballot box. I suspect that the nationalist vote will likely grow over the next decade if the unprecedented strength of the main pro-unity parties yields the dividends people want to see from this election.
As for the vote itself, at 64.8% it was the highest turnout since the first election to the northern assembly in 1998, following its establishment under the Good Friday Agreement. With ninety seats up for grabs this time around (a statutory reduction from 108) the results were
- 28 – Democratic Unionist Party
- 27 – Sinn Féin
- 12 – Social Democratic and Labour Party
- 10 – Ulster Unionist Party
- 8 – Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
- 2 – Green Party
- 1 – People Before Profit Alliance
- 1 – Traditional Unionist Voice
- 1 – Independent unionist
In terms of official political designations, nationalist or unionist, that yields;
- 40 – Unionist
- 39 – Nationalist
- 11 – Other
However those numbers are somewhat deceptive. The “Other” description includes parties with support from both communities but that support is largely partisan in nature. For instance the PBPA is a nationalist-sympathetic all-Ireland party while the APNI is a unionist-leaning Six County one. The Green Party is also all-Ireland, though of late its local branch has pursued a more regionalist or partitionist line. So the eleven seats outside the two main designations contain considerable fudge and they should be regarded as mostly liberal pro-union in nature.
While one must recognise that the representatives of northern nationalism do not yet enjoy a plurality in the regional assembly at Stormont, the parties are heading in that direction. A figure of forty-five seats or Members of the Local Assembly is certainly achievable on the numbers seen from some of the constituency counts in the north-east of the country, possibly within the next few years. Overall, as I said previously, a good day for equality and freedom, and a damned good day for Ireland.