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2020

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The Wind that Shakes the Ballot Box


As the dust begins to settle on what was arguably one of the most historic General Elections in our time, the main certainty that we have is that the result now makes a border poll more inevitable.


Looking across to Britain, Boris Johnson’s unprecedented majority will mean that we should begin to see movement on Brexit as he finally gets a withdrawal agreement through, which looks likely to have massive implications for Northern Irish businesses with an effective customs border down the Irish sea. Whilst this won’t be the end of Brexit as the UK will then have to negotiate a trade deal with the EU it should mean that we can begin to deal with the consequences that come with leaving the trading bloc.


One such consequence of this has been that the constitutional question has now been thrust into the front and centre of our politics in Northern Ireland. Whilst I look forward to seeing Claire Hanna challenge Boris Johnson with her forensic analysis which has become commonplace on our television screens in recent years and Stephen Farry bringing his unprecedented knowledge of the impact that Brexit will have on Northern Ireland to the green benches, the Conservative majority means that any vote by a Northern Irish MP is now null and void. Whereas in the previous number of mandates, key decisions could have been overturned with less than a handful of votes, it will now be incredibility difficult for the opposition parties to vote down any government motion.


For the first time in history, Northern Ireland will now send a majority of Nationalist MPs to Westminster. Whilst some may argue that this does not necessarily point to a majority in favour of a United Ireland as it was a plurality result with nationalists taking 38.9% of the vote to 42.3% of the combined DUP and UUP vote and not one of an overall majority, what this demonstrates is that the balance of power now lies with Northern Ireland’s “Others” and as I have previously wrote on this blog, it will be these voters who decide the outcome of a border poll if and when it is called.


Another thing that has been confirmed with this election is that the Ulster Unionist Party is indeed on life support and unless Steve Aiken can perform some sort of miracle, they will not be around much longer . One of the biggest shocks of the night was the result in Upper Bann where the Alliance Party Councillor Eóin Tennyson had a surprising result coming in third and beating two sitting MLAs in one of the UUPs biggest names , Doug Beattie and the SDLPs Delores Kelly. In the inevitable chance that we are facing into another Assembly election in the New Year then it is likely that he will unseat Kelly and become the parties first MLA in the constituency.


In previous elections I would have been quick to write off the SDLP alongside the Ulster Unionists as a dying breed but standing in the count centre in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter I couldn’t help but feel a sense of optimism from the party’s activists. One thing that stood out was the number of young activists lending a hand and the cross-border support that Hanna had with a number of Fine Gael members in the count centre lending her their support. That optimism turned to joy as news filtered through from Foyle where the party leader, Colm Eastwood romped home with over a 17,000 vote majority making history by beating the vote share won by their former leader John Hume. This was again reflected in the South Belfast result where unsurprisingly Claire Hanna won with a landslide of over 27,000 votes. It will be interesting to see however if she takes the SDLP whip in Westminster having resigned from the Assembly party group over their links with Fianna Fáil.


With parties due to return to Stormont today for a fresh round of talks in the hope of restoring devolution, it is likely that if a deal is agreed then it will be remarkably similar to the document released back in February 2018. Whether Arlene Foster can remain as the leader of the DUP remains to be seen with suggestions that Nigel Dodds could be co-opted into the seat vacated by Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann and then eventually replace Mrs Foster as leader. However, if this is the route that the DUP wish to proceed with they will be cautious to do it in a timeframe that will not look like they are giving into Sinn Fein’s initial demands that they would not go into government again with her as First Minister.

James McCarthy is Journalism Masters student at Ulster University having recently graduated with a BSc in Politics.


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