Sinn Féin’s victory brings debate on Irish reunification into focus

By Javier Aja

Dublin, May 7 (EFE).- Sinn Féin’s historic victory in the Northern Ireland Assembly election marks a shift in the balance of power in the country, where Brexit has come at a cost for the traditionally dominant unionist parties while the question of Irish reunification has climbed the agenda.

A century on from the partition of Ireland, a shift in the political landscape is being felt in Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland as Sinn Féin, a left-wing party with its roots as a political wing of the now inactive Irish Republican Army, is a stone’s throw from executive power in both Belfast and Dublin.

The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill, the daughter of a former IRA militant, will be presented as Northern Ireland’s first minister in the power-sharing government in Belfast, a position never before held by a Sinn Féin candidate.

In the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has already achieved what her predecessor, Gerry Adams — whose political presence was often overshadowed by his violent IRA past — by winning the popular vote in the 2020 general elections.

Dublin-born McDonald, of middle-class heritage and free from militant links to the IRA, secured 24.5% of the Irish vote ahead of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael although was unable to form a minority government.

Sinn Féinn is set to continue its rise as it learns from the mistakes of its past, when it prioritized the reunification of Ireland over everyday issues like health, education, housing and the economy — a particularly weak point for Adams.

O’Neill has maintained the support of her bases in Northern Ireland while tackling issues such as the ongoing government crisis, the rising cost of living and the impact of Brexit, which was rejected by Northern Irish voters in 2016.

The republican movement knows there will not be a referendum on the border in the short term.

Any so-called border poll would have to take place in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as enshrined by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought tentative calm to Northern Ireland following decades of sectarian violence. EFE


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