The next 5th of May could be a historic day for Northern Ireland. Citizens of the United Kingdom region will vote to elect the local assembly and the main agenda of the election is the discussion on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a consequence of the negotiations for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Brexit. Electoral polls point not only to a defeat for the defenders of Brexit, but a possible unprecedented result.
This is not the first time that this issue has been addressed in our space and, in this case, it is not enough to discussion of Brexit or recent events, it is also necessary to understand the historical process of State formation of the Republic of Ireland, to the south, and of Northern Ireland, region of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland as we know it today was created in 1921, when the island of Ireland was divided by the British parliament.
The southern part became independent in 1922, with a Catholic majority, and the six northern counties remained part of the United Kingdom, with a certain degree of autonomy. Most of the population of these counties were Unionists, that is, advocates of union with the British Crown. Unionists, for the most part, are descendants of Protestant settlers who arrived in Ireland from England and Wales.
It is important to remember that there are these three facets of the conflict. The national one, between Irish and English, the religious one, between Catholics and Protestants, and the ideological one, between independence republicans and pro-London monarchists. In the case of the last two cleavages, the conflict may be internal to the communities, which has been the case for decades, with communal violence and a virtual civil war among the Northern Irish population.
Agreements and border
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 as a solution to the conflict. Signed by the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and political groups of different ideological positions in Northern Ireland, the agreement abolished the internal borders of the island of Ireland. This free movement was threatened with Brexit, which would restore the border, since Ireland remains in the European Union, unlike the United Kingdom.
As an attempt to solve it, in December 2020, the Northern Ireland Protocol was concluded. According to the text, the border was “displaced” to the sea. Northern Ireland remains in European customs territory, and goods and people are free to transit the island of Ireland. Products from the EU that enter UK territory via Ireland would need to pass customs controls at ports on the Irish Sea.
The solution displeased unionists, both in Northern Ireland and in the Party British Conservative, who see this internal currency as “the fault” of the EU. Episodes of violence have increased on the island since then. In addition, the British government has more than once threatened to invoke Article 13 of the Protocol, which suspends negotiations for “economic, social and economic difficulties”. or environmental” or “deviation from business purpose”.
The vague and subjective terms can be applied to almost any situation, and the political situation in Northern Ireland has become increasingly tense. Mainly, the local consequences of Brexit increased support for political groups defending the EU and Irish republican nationalism, with a possible future merger with the Republic of Ireland, to the south, unifying the island.
In this perspective, there are three main groups in Northern Ireland. The Republicans, a term for Northern Irish nationalists who desire Irish unity in an independent republic of the United Kingdom; the already explained Unionists, who defend ties with the United Kingdom; finally, in smaller numbers, the Ulster nationalists, who want an independent Northern Ireland, without being part of the Republic of Ireland.
Election polls show Sinn Féin in the lead in preference, with about 25% of voting intentions. Founded in 1905, Sinn Féin played an important role in the Irish War of Independence, and its current version was founded in 1970, as a leftist and republican party. He is active on both sides of the border, including seven seats in the House of Commons in London, where he always abstains.
Also has 1921 of the 160 seats of the Republic of Ireland parliament, tied with the governing party, Fianna Fáil, as the largest bench. He currently occupies 26 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, also tied for largest bench with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) its biggest rival and biggest pro-London party in Northern Ireland, close to the British Conservative Party.
Sinn Féin is often described as “the IRA party”, a reference to the former Irish Republican Army armed group, IRA. This description can be given both as criticism and support, and is due to the fact that many members of the armed group joined the party after the peace process, although there are no official ties between the two groups.
The DUP has 20% of voting intentions in the polls, followed by the centrist Aliança, liberal, with about 14% of intentions. Next are the Ulster Unionist party with 14% and the Social Democratic and Labor Party with around
%. In addition to five parties with at least % of voting intentions, smaller parties, both unionists and leftists, close the list, such as the Green party.
If Sinn Féin’s victory is confirmed, it will be the first time in history that a party openly against union with London wins the elections in Northern Ireland. All were won by unionists. The point is that, as is often the case in parliamentarism, the first place winner can win, but not win. Sinn Féin may not be able to form a governing coalition with a majority in such a divided parliament.
The eventual balance sheet of a viable coalition will be the liberal Alliance party, which declares itself to be of the center, nor unionist and not republican. They can either win concessions from Sinn Féin or make a coalition with unionist parties viable. It would not be the first time that the largest bench in a parliament has been left out of government, leading the opposition.
The possibility of a Sinn Féin victory also raises alarms in London. Boris Johnson could be the subject of a parliamentary inquiry over the holidays during the pandemic, and a Republican victory in Northern Ireland, plus the promise of Nicola Sturgeon, leader of Scotland’s government, of a new referendum on Scottish independence, could throw gas. at the stake of political crisis.