The nationalist party Sinn Féin won a “tsunami” of votes to score a better-than-expected victory in Northern Ireland’s council elections, which were widely seen as a verdict on the region’s post-Brexit stalemate.
After the count ended early Sunday morning, Sinn Féin had secured control of six of the 11 councils, cementing their place as the largest party in the region. He beat projections to take 144 of the council’s 462 seats, an increase from 39 in the last election in 2019.
The Democratic Unionist party, which had controlled six councils earlier, came in second, repeating the historic setback of last year’s Stormont regional assembly elections.
The Alliance party, which identifies neither as unionist nor nationalist in the deeply divided region, secured third place with 67 councilors after what its leader Naomi Long described as “almost a tsunami of votes” for Sinn Féin, the party pro unity irish.
Although some of the seats won by Sinn Féin were in traditionally unionist areas where it had never won before, analysts said the result was far from a failure for the DUP.
“This is a very good result for the DUP,” Jon Tonge, a professor of politics at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Northern Ireland.
The largest pro-UK grouping has been boycotting the region’s power-sharing government and assembly in Stormont for over a year demanding more concessions related to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade rules with mainland Britain and had expected to turn the council elections into a proxy vote to back his campaign.
Supporters of the DUP did not go over in droves to the more hawkish Traditional Unionist Voice party, to which it had lost support in the Stormont election last year and retained all of its 122 seats, albeit with no gains.
Jonathan Buckley, a DUP lawmaker, told BBC Northern Ireland it had been a “very strong choice” for his party. He accused Chris Heaton-Harris, the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, of “bullying” to try to get him to return to Stormont, saying other parties had “gang together” on him.
Analysts said the result left a path open for DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to take his party back to the Stormont institutions, a move some analysts believe could happen after the traditional season of union marches. in July.
“Yeah [Donaldson] returns to Stormont this fall. . . he will not come back with his tail between his legs because, frankly, the DUP vote has held up very, very well,” Tonge said.
The DUP opposes the Brexit-imposed customs border in the Irish Sea and says a revised agreement, known as the windsor frameagreed between London and the EU earlier this year to simplify trade rules, is not enough to secure the region’s place in the UK and its internal market.
He has yet to explain what, precisely, would draw him back to Stormont, but the UK government has promised legislation to secure Northern Ireland’s place within the UK and is expected to provide some financial incentive as well. “This has strengthened Jeffrey’s hand,” said Alex Kane, former communications director for the smaller Ulster Unionist party.
But he warned that the clock was running out on the DUP to lift the boycott with a big american investment conference that will take place in Belfast in September. “If the trade unionists do not return [Stormont] investors are not coming.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s prime minister-in-waiting, called on ministers from the UK and the Republic of Ireland to meet “as a matter of urgency” over the weekend to help restore power-sharing institutions. London and Dublin have said a meeting is planned in a few weeks.
Despite what O’Neill called a “momentous” victory, his party will face a number of challenges if power sharing is restored, following through on political commitments at a time when North Ireland is fighting unprecedented financial pain.
Officials running Stormont in the absence of a government have warned of further cuts that could cause irreversible damage to the health service, which has the longest waiting lists in the UK, as well as other public services such as education.
Sinn Féin’s victory at the weekend has cemented its place as the largest party in the region, but local election results have not ensured support for its goal of a referendum on a united ireland within a decade.
Candidates backing Irish reunification won 40.5 percent of the vote against 53.1 percent for those who wanted to remain British. However, in terms of seats, it was much closer with 186 councilors identifying as returning unionists compared to 185 identifying as nationalists, according to Professor Duncan Morrow, a professor of politics at the University of Ulster.
“You cannot equate a vote for Sinn Féin with a united Ireland; there was no talk of a united Ireland in this campaign,” said Deirdre Heenan, a professor of social policy at the University of Ulster.
“What this election has really confirmed is that Northern Ireland is now a tripartite state.”