24th Mar 2018

May and Kenny to discuss Northern Ireland at summit

  • Last week's election results showed that most people in Northern Ireland still vote sectarian. (Photo: NH53)

The leaders of the United Kingdom and Ireland will discuss the Northern Ireland election results at Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, they announced on Sunday (5 March).

UK prime minister Theresa May and taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke on the phone about “their shared commitment to work with the parties to move forward and create a stable administration which ensures a strong, peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland”.

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Over the weekend, the election results showed that most people in Northern Ireland still vote sectarian.

“Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy,” said Mike Nesbitt, who stepped down as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party after his party's poor showing at Thursday's elections for Northern Ireland's local assembly.

“We will vote in a post-sectarian election, but it's now clear it will not happen during the duration of my political career,” said Nesbitt.

The political landscape did not change enormously at first glance, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) remaining the largest pro-UK, or unionist, party, and Sinn Fein still as the largest pro-Ireland, or republican, party.

But DUP and Sinn Fein are closer in numbers than ever, with the first receiving 28.1 percent, and the second 27.9 percent. They were already in a coalition before the election, but it collapsed over a row about a renewable energy scheme.

With the rule that the local government of Northern Ireland should consist of parties from both sides, voters more or less condemned DUP and Sinn Fein to continue working together.

But relations have soured, since the two parties have very different views on a range of issues. Last year, DUP campaigned for the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to leave the European Union.

Sinn Fein however, like a majority of those in Northern Ireland that voted in the in/out referendum, wanted to remain.

If no coalition can be reached within three weeks, new elections could be called, otherwise May's government would be legally required to take up direct rule over the region.

Irish unification on voters' minds

The question of whether to hold a post-Brexit referendum on a united Ireland is dominating Thursday's elections in the North.

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The result of the Social Democrats members' vote on a new grand coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats will be known on Sunday. A 'Yes' is expected across Europe.

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