The dramatic rise of Sinn Fein — the nationalist political party that has consistently called for a united Ireland by merger with the Irish Republic — makes the already complicated situation of Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit era even more complex. Once just the political wing of the militant Irish Republican Army that fought the UK for decades before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Sinn Fein has emerged from the polls as the leading party with the right to nominate the first minister.
Sinn Fein could help determine what appears to be not only an uncertain future but also a knotty present thanks to a protocol by which checks are imposed on goods flowing in from the rest of the United Kingdom in a sort of mythical border in the Irish Sea. But then it would depend on whether they are allowed to rule at all since the DUP, the Unionist party, could wreck it by declining to join the new government by nominating a deputy first minister within four months and thus precipitating a new election.
The demographics has changed with the Catholics almost in the same numbers as Protestants now but Brexit may have proved the gamechanger though all parties contested the elections more on governance, jobs and bread-and-butter issues like the cost-of-living crisis and the healthcare system. The Northern Ireland Protocol was still the unspoken factor though the people or rulers can do little about it.
It’s up to the government of Boris Johnson in London to decide on whether the protocol is to be overhauled, altered or done away with, but which would come not only at the cost of further alienating the EU but also endangering the Good Friday Agreement and the open border between the two Irelands.
The DUP, which has made removal of the protocol an article of faith, might be impeded from joining a regime with the Sinn Fein in the complex power sharing formula that has been a political feature of N. Ireland for close to a quarter century now. How the dice rolls from here would be fraught with interest for a land that had rescued itself from sectarian strife with considerable effort following decades of a violent conflict....