Sinn Fein Dominates Elections, Calls for End to Stalemate

Party, opponents say results show support for getting power-sharing government back to work
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2023 2:10 PM CDT
Sinn Fein Dominates Elections, Calls for End to Stalemate
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, center top, leaves following the coronation ceremony of King Charles III and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey in London on May 6.   (Phil Noble/Pool Photo via AP)

Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has made sweeping gains in Northern Ireland's local elections, extending its success from last year's assembly elections and becoming the largest party for the first time. When the counting was completed late Saturday, Sinn Fein, which seeks unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, had taken 144 of 462 local government seats—an increase of 39 from the last local government elections in 2019. Its main rival, the Democratic Unionist Party, captured 122 seats, while the centrist Alliance Party had 67, the AP reports. Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's vice president, said the results were "momentous."

O'Neill added that her party's success was a message from voters that Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, which has been paralyzed for over a year, must get back to business. "This election was an opportunity to send a clear signal ... to support the positive leadership and a party that wants to get the Assembly up and running," she said. The semi-autonomous Belfast government has been suspended since the DUP, which wants to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom, walked out more than a year ago to protest a post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Under power-sharing rules established by the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, the main British unionist and Irish nationalist parties must govern together.

During the political stalemate, O'Neill said, "public services are suffering, the public are suffering because of austerity." Northern Irish politics have been stuck in a gridlock because of a prolonged dispute over the issue of customs checkpoints that were introduced when Britain left the trade bloc in 2020. Sinn Fein's decisive victory, said a former DUP minister, is "a wake up and smell the coffee moment" for unionists, per the BBC. Politicians and commentators saw clear causation. "The longer Michelle O'Neill is blocked from becoming first minister, the more voters are driven into the arms of her party," Suzanne Breen wrote in the Belfast Telegraph.

(More Northern Ireland stories.)

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