Historic elections took place in Northern Ireland last week. Photo: K Mitch Hodge

Northern elections see history made

I learned something new this week. Did you know that the likely first female First Minister in Northern Ireland was born in Cork?

Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill was born in Fermoy but moved to Co. Tyrone when she was young. After Sinn Féin’s impressive performance in the Northern Irish elections, winning the most seats for the first time in a Stormont election, they now have the right to appoint a first ever nationalist first minister. However there’s a catch. In order for Sinn Féin to hold the first minister position, it needs the DUP -the biggest unionist party to take up the deputy first minister's position.

They are currently not willing to do so until the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol is resolved first. So deadlock is the result.

Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP have all told An Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis that they wish to restore power sharing in Stormont.

This was a historic first in Northern Ireland while the centrist Alliance Party had a hugely successful election winning a record number of seats. The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 and originally espoused a form of moderate and non-sectarian unionism. However, the party is designated as neither unionist nor Irish nationalist, but ‘Other' is Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Féin won 27 seats, the same as the last election making them the biggest party ahead of the DUP, who lost three seats to drop to 25. UUP lost a seat to drop to nine while the SDLP lost four seats to end up with eight seats.

One party made huge gains however, gaining nine seats to become the third biggest party in the Assembly. The Alliance Party are now up to 17 seats.

Over time the party moved away from being unionist and instead focused on liberal and non-sectarian concerns.The Alliance Party’s manifesto said it “believes in a united community for Northern Ireland. Not the 'two communities' narrative promoted by most other parties, but a vision of everyone in Northern Ireland coming together for the betterment of society as a whole.

“We believe in a Northern Ireland where the benefits of living in a peaceful society are shared, not shared out. Where politics is defined by socioeconomic issues, compromise and voluntary cooperation - not the constitutional question or zero-sum brinkmanship.”

And it seems that their message has struck a chord with its greatest ever election performance.

While Sinn Féin certainly made history this week in Northern Ireland, was it as significant as the history made by a party that classes itself as non-sectarian?