Northern Ireland's snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape.
The big winner from Saturday's final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Fein.
Already the major voice for the Catholic side, Sinn Fein reduced its previous 10-seat gap with its erstwhile Protestant colleagues in government to a single seat in a 90-member chamber. Sinn Fein came within 1,168 votes province-wide of becoming the most popular party for the first time in a corner of the United Kingdom that its leaders long sought to make ungovernable through Irish Republican Army carnage....
In another first, the leading British Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, won't have enough votes to block legislation on its own, a power long employed to block gay rights legislation backed by all other parties. Never before has the Protestant side's status as the in-built majority in Northern Ireland felt so precarious.
The outcome from Thursday's election, forced by a surprise Sinn Fein withdrawal that collapsed the previous unity government, caught other parties off guard. The Democratic Unionists finished with 28 seats, Sinn Fein 27. The political affiliations of smaller parties meant the new assembly will have 40 unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom versus 39 nationalists seeking to merge the once Protestant-dominated north into the Republic of Ireland.I am curious if Brexit was a large motivating factor in more people supporting Sinn Fein in this election than in previous elections. The Unionist side is getting very old, and I would guess that some young Protestants see more of a future with Ireland and the EU than with Britain. Previous elections showed a much slower rate of change in relative strength between Unionists and Nationalists.