It is a disappointing election result for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The pro-British party were ten seats ahead of Irish nationalists Sinn Fein heading into the snap poll, and saw that lead shrink to just one as the results were announced.
DUP 28, SF 27, SDLP 12, UUP 10, APNI 8, Green 2, TUV 1, PBPA 1, IND 1.
Though the DUP remains the largest party, it has lost its power to veto in the ‘petition of concern’. This mechanism gave the DUP the power to veto issues such as lifting a ban on same-sex marriage and blocking abortion rights.
The two largest parties now have three weeks to form a new power-sharing government in order to avoid devolved power returning to Westminster for the first time in a decade.
Sinn Fein’s leader Michelle O’Neill told journalists it was an ‘amazing day’, as it was the closest her party had come to becoming the largest in Northern Ireland.
They are calling on the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, to step down while investigations begin into her bungled green energy scheme which could cost the tax payer up to 500 million GBP (578.8 million euros). The question of DUP leadership is viewed as the key to whether a devolved coalition government will be viable.
Turnout rose to 65% after last year’s election, the highest since the first Assembly after the Good Friday agreement which established the power-sharing agreement between nationalists and unionists.
But the increase in voter turnout was not to the benefit of the Ulster Unionist Party. Leader and former news anchor, Mike Nesbitt, who won his seat, stepped down over the poor performance of his party saying, “Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy”. He said he regretted the fact that the election left Northern Ireland more polarised.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams said his party’s surge in popularity showed that nationalists were opposed to Brexit. He once again called for “special designation” from the EU for the region in order to prevent the dreaded return of a “hard border”.
Mr Adams concluded with a line that will embolden Irish nationalists and leave unionists feeling uneasy, he announced that “It is a vote for Irish unity, a vote for us together as a people”. The remark is a nod to the meaning of Sinn Fein in gaelic “ourselves alone” and typifies the increasing polarisation in Northern Irish politics as the region enters an era of uncertainty imposed upon it by Brexit despite voting 55.8 percent to remain in the EU.