Tactics and pacts: Why is the Northern Irish election result significant?

Sinn Fein's John Finucane
Sinn Fein's John Finucane Copyright REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan
By Seana Davis
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Tactics, votes and alliances - the Northern Irish case throws up a host of issues.


It was hailed as the "Brexit election" with one key issue.

An outstanding question heading into the UK election was whether people were going to cast their ballot tactically, meaning whether they were going to vote along Brexit lines rather than traditional party politics.

Did people vote tactically?

For much of the United Kingdom, tactical voting seems to have been non-existent despite campaigns launched from the likes of Gina Miller urging people to vote for pro-remain candidates, regardless of which party they belonged to, in order to block a pro-Brexit MP from gaining or retaining their seat.

The Liberal Democrats, who would have been hoping for Labour voters to back them in key seats in a tactical voting move, were left disappointed. Jo Swinson, the now-former party leader, lost her seat in what was a swift rejection of tactical voting.

However, one region where voters may have cast their ballot tactically is Northern Ireland.

What happened in Northern Ireland?

Prior to this election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) held 10 seats in Westminster. However, for the first time in Northern Ireland's history, the number of Nationalist parties now outnumber Unionists, with the DUP losing two seats in what was a significant blow for the party.

Nigel Dodds, the Deputy Leader of the DUP who had been an elected MP for 18 years, lost his seat to Sinn Fein's John Finucane. Dodds was one of the key DUP players during Brexit negotiations, with the party having a significant say during Theresa May's tenure.

Finucane had campaigned heavily on social media for members of his constituency to vote tactically. In fact, Sinn Fein had formed a pact with the SDLP, both pro-remain parties. SDLP stepped aside in an effort to avoid splitting the vote, boosting Finucane's chances of an election victory.

Sinn Fein campaigned as early as 4 November for pacts and tactical voting, announcing that they would not contest in three seats in order to give another pro-remain candidate from a different party a better chance of winning.

Similarly, the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, had called for pacts to be made along Unionist and pro-Brexit lines.

Were pacts the key factor?

Not all parties formed pacts, however. The cross-community party Alliance who received a surge in support chose not to form pacts. Stephen Farry, who won his seat had stated that "the problem with pacts is while they might start about one issue, they can be presented in a different way ... That's why choice is important."

The Alliance Party campaigned on a pro-remain mandate, signalling yet again, the nature of the single-issue election.

Why is this vote significant?

The vote has been hailed as important for many aspects, not the least that this will be the first time Nationalist parties outnumber Unionist, with the DUP losing two seats and SDLP and Sinn Fein forming pacts across several seats. The rise for the Alliance Party, neutral on the nationalism issue, shows the complexity within Northern Ireland in what is a divisive issue.

The vote in Northern Ireland mirrored that within Scotland, support for pro-remain candidates, with our political editor Darren McCaffrey saying that "Brexit continues to pull the seams" within the UK.

Arguably one of the most important issues for voters, however, has been a lack of politicians sitting in Stormont. The Belfast parliament has not been sitting for over three years, since its collapse in 2017 due to a botch financial scheme.

Since then, political parties have failed to restart the Assembly, with consistently conflicting views between the two major parties, Sinn Fein and DUP.

After congratulating Boris Johnson on his victory, Simon Coveney swiftly called for parties to head back to the table for talks on Monday to restore the Assembly. Whether the election result, although signalling a seismic shift, will hinder or help the stalemate, that question is yet to be answered.

Click on the player above as Seana in The Cube explains more.

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