27 April 2022, The Tablet

Northern Ireland parties face test of maturity

May assembly election


The Good Friday Agreement which ended the bloodshed in Northern Ireland is about to face the hardest test of its 24 years in existence – a severe test of the maturity of politicians on all sides. Can they put the common good of both communities ahead of factional interests? Can the Unionist majority tolerate, however grudgingly, the definitive end of the last vestiges of the old Protestant Supremacy that has lain at the core of its existence for 400 years? Can it accept participation in a power-sharing government nominally headed (in reality, each has equal powers) by a Republican Catholic if, as widely expected, Sinn Féin, the political offspring of the IRA, emerges from the 5 May assembly election as the largest party?

The evidence suggests that most Unionists are less averse to the idea than their political leaders. Polls indicate that for ordinary voters in Northern Ireland, the most important issue in the election is the cost of living crisis. If Sinn Féin were to take the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, then its leader in Stormont, Michelle O’Neill, should become the first minister. But if no Unionist party nominates a deputy first minister, then no such appointment would take place. The power-sharing arrangement would collapse and power would revert to Westminster.

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