7 must-know facts about Northern Ireland’s politics

Northern Ireland is getting a great deal of attention right now. What's going on?

According to the BBC, the latest bid to form an executive in Northern Ireland has failed. For this reason, as well as the facts that Northern Ireland could be detrimentally affected by Brexit and that the DUP are keeping the Conservatives in power at Westminster, it’s worth knowing a bit about Northern Irish politics.

1. The Parliament of Northern Ireland

Following the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was established to give six of the nine counties of Ulster a degree of autonomy within the United Kingdom. The parliament was dominated by unionists, but was eventually suspended in 1972.

2. The Good Friday Agreement

The Parliament was suspended as the “troubles” took hold of the province, which was a period of violent fighting between Ulster loyalists and Irish Republicans in Northern Ireland. During this period, the divided Northern Ireland was ruled by Westminster directly.

The troubles came to an end in 1998 with the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, which established the Northern Ireland Assembly, thus ending Westminster-rule in Northern Ireland.

3. Power-sharing

Northern Ireland’s Assembly borrows ideas from the consociationalism school of thought, which argues that in violent and divided societies, opposing communities within a country or region should come together to share power for the sake of peace. Bosnia and Herzegovina complex political system is another example of this type of arrangement.

Resultantly, the Northern Irish executive must be made up of parties from the nationalist and unionist communities. The largest party in the coalition will become first minister while the largest party in the other community will become deputy first minister. Cooperation is key. Furthermore, certain motions must get support from both communities to pass in the assembly to ensure that issues are supported by both sides.

4. Northern Irish Assembly

There used to be 108 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) elected in Northern Ireland, but this was reduced to 90 in the most recent vote. Members are elected via the Single Transferable Vote system, which results in a roughly proportional outcome.

5. The 2016 election

In 2016, the DUP emerged as the largest party followed by Sinn Fein. However, the assembly did not last long as Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned over the Renewable Heating Scandal.

6. The 2017 election

This triggered a fresh election in which the DUP won 28 seats, followed closely by Sinn Fein’s 27 seats. There was also a significant increase in turnout, with 65% of Northern Irish voters casting their ballots.

7. The current state of play

Just one month short of one year on from the 2017 election, Northern Ireland remains without an executive. Power-sharing has its use in keeping the peace and ensuring change comes with support from both communities in a divided society, but the lack of agreement currently means that the province lacks an effective executive.

The latest development is that Sinn Fein, now led by Michelle O’Neil, will talk with both the UK and Irish governments, as reported by the BBC.

Will anything break the stalemate?

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