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Post Sinn Fein Wins N Ireland Assembly Vote
Created by John Eipper on 05/11/22 3:56 AM

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Sinn Fein Wins N Ireland Assembly Vote (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 05/11/22 3:56 am)

There have been many goings-on in Northern Ireland since January 25th of this year, which is the date of the most recent Forum post about the northeastern part of the Hibernian island.

A seismic shock occurred just short of a week ago when the election to the Northern Ireland Assembly resulted in the Sinn Féin nationalist party capturing 29% of the vote and 27 seats in Parliament, often referred to as "Stormont." The vote share of Democratic Unionist Party ("DUP"), whose members are primarily Protestant and also "England-oriented," dramatically dipped by 6.7% from its prior election results, leaving it with only 21.3 percent and 25 parliamentary seats. However, one intriguing result of the election was the stunning performance of the Alliance Party, which captured 9.1% of the vote and, as a result, secured 17 seats in Stormont.

These results determine that, under the power-sharing agreement governing Stormont, Sinn Féin is entitled to nominate a party member to assume the parliamentary position of First Minister, and that the DUP is entitled to nominate one of its members as the Deputy First Minister. Once these party members assume their offices, the Stormont Executive can function. However, if one of these parties refuse to be so seated, the Northern Ireland Executive, as determined by the results of the recent election, could not be established. In these circumstances, a "caretaker"government would be appointed to perform the functions of the Executive for a period of nine months before another election is held. This interim governance measure is now permitted under Stormont rules recently adopted, but it is not optimal, especially in the current circumstances. Caretakers have limited powers; they cannot make major or complex decisions, pass budgets or agree on a program for government. However, if Sinn Féin and the DUP assume their respective positions in the Executive, the newly elected Assembly could convene and fulfill its legislative functions, probably by next week.

These critical circumstances have been now been further complicated by the recent announcement by the leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, that the party will not appoint one of its members as Stormont's Deputy First Minister in the wake of the recent election. Donaldson stated that such an appointment will not be made until the Northern Ireland Protocol, which among other things requires border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from England to Northern Ireland, is revoked or gutted. The Tory Government of the United Kingdom, in apparent support of Donaldson's threat, is reportedly preparing draft legislation for Westminster's consideration and vote, which if passed by the UK Parliament would "scrap key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This recent development is described in today's (May 10, 2022) post of The Guardian Online. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/may/10/liz-truss-preparing-to-tear-up-northern-ireland-protocol-reports .

Beyond the foregoing, the recent Stormont elections contain what could turn out to be an important, positive development--the Alliance Party captured 9.1% of the recent vote and the right to seat 17 members in Northern Ireland's Parliament. This party was founded in 1970 in the midst of the Troubles as an alternative to the "sectarian parties" and sought (and seeks) to continue to "build bridges" between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Ulster. Recent news reports from the British Isles describe this development in hopeful terms, in that it could indicate that the sectarian nature of politics in Northern Ireland may be on the wane, along with its accompanying violence.

Finally, although there has not been much public discussion yet about the question of how the election results might push Northern Ireland towards a "Border Poll," in which (as permitted by the 1998 Belfast Agreement) a plebiscite may be held in Northern Ireland on the question of whether that polity should extract itself from the United Kingdom and incorporate itself into the Republic of Ireland. Should such a poll be held, the voters in the Republic would also concurrently vote as to whether the Republic should accept Northern Ireland into that state. There have been some recent news reports that Sinn Féin is now considering the commencement of a campaign to have such a Border Poll held within the next five years.

JE comments:  The world's attention is distracted by the Ukraine war, but news doesn't stop elsewhere.  And sometimes it's big political news.  Pat, when time permits, could you give us a primer on how a Border Poll would work?  What, for the sake of argument, if the North votes to join the Republic but the latter says no?


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  • A Northern Ireland "Border Poll"? How It Might Work (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/12/22 3:19 AM)

    One critical element of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement that was signed in the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland on April 10, 1998, is the "poll" that may be taken on both sides of the Irish Border that separates Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. (The popular term "border poll" is not used in the Belfast Agreement; the word "border" is absent in the document.)


    As explained below, this mechanism is designed to determine whether the voting population of Northern Ireland desires to "Remain" in the United Kingdom or "Leave" the UK and merge into the Republic of Ireland. However, the Belfast Agreement's provisions concerning the invocation and operation of this border poll are not precisely defined, which could cause problems in the future.


    1.  The Relevant Provisions of the Belfast Agreement


    Under the heading of "Constitutional Issues," the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland explicitly recognize in Section 1(i) the "legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland." Section 1(ii) continues as follows:


    "(The two parties to the Agreement) recognize that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland."


    Schedule I of Annex A to the Belfast Agreement titled "Polls for the Purpose of Section I" provides that the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland "may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of (determining whether Northern Ireland will remain in the UK or join the Republic) on a date specified in the order." This determination shall be made by the Secretary of State "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be a part of the United Kingdom and form a part of a United Ireland." This determination, however, may not be made in the event that a prior poll had been taken within seven years "after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule."


    The Belfast Agreement therefore provides a binary choice for qualified voters in the polling on the question of "Remain" or "Leave," and also states that a simple majority vote (50% + 1) will determine the outcome. Nevertheless, there are no provisions in the Belfast Agreement that seek to define under what circumstances would the Secretary of State make a determination as to whether to call such a border poll. The text appears to leave this decision completely within the discretion of the Secretary of State. Some commentators argue that the decision must be made in good faith by the Secretary of State, taking into account public opinion polls and the declarations of Northern Ireland politicians.


    There is also a judicial gloss on this provision contained within a 2020 decision by the Northern Ireland rendered in litigation commenced by an individual challenging the above-quoted criteria to be used by the Secretary of State in calling a border poll. The Northern Ireland Court of Appeals described the discretion of the Secretary of State as "unqualified," and that the Belfast Agreement did not specify any matter that should be taken into account or anything that should be disregarded in deciding whether or not to call a border poll. This decision also posits that the calling of such a poll must be based on evidence and not politics and that the Secretary of State's decision must be honest and rigorously impartial.


    2.  Possible Voting Outcomes


    As noted above, if a border poll is called by the Secretary of State and the voters decide to "Remain," then no subsequent poll may be scheduled for seven years thereafter. If the poll is called and the voters decide to "Leave," then the Republic of Ireland would in the normal course of events, conduct its own poll of its voters to determine if the Republic will honor the wishes of the majority of Northern Ireland voters seeking to join the Republic. This mirror-image border poll would likely also seek the consent of the Republic's voters to certain amendments to the Republic's Constitution in order to accomplish the merging of the two states. One question that would also need to be decided then is the form of such a merger. The choices appear to be either (i) Northern Ireland becomes a part of a unitary state administered from Dublin, or (ii) a devolved government would be established in Northern Ireland with a parliamentary body empowered to enact certain "local" laws and regulations that would apply in Northern Ireland.


    The text of the Belfast Agreement is linked here:


    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1034123/The_Belfast_Agreement_An_Agreement_Reached_at_the_Multi-Party_Talks_on_Northern_Ireland.pdf


    JE comments:  This poll published a year ago has Northern Ireland's "Remainers" outnumbering the "Leavers" by 44 to 35 percent.  So the 21% of Undecideds make up the crucial difference.  Voters in the South favor unification, but not if the Republic has to pay for it. 


    Pat, could you speculate:  would unification hit Dublin hard in the pocketbook, or would the North actually provide an economic boost for the Republic?  After all, Northern Ireland is not East Germany.


    https://www.politico.eu/article/poll-ireland-unification-support-costs-brexit/


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    • How Would the Republic Vote on Unification with Northern Ireland? (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/13/22 5:32 AM)
      With respect to your question, John, about how the Irish in the Republic of Ireland might vote in a border poll today, it is almost impossible to answer. Most of the polls that I have been reading about have been naturally taken in Northern Ireland, for a majority "Leave" vote taken there would trigger a border poll down south.

      An article in the May 8, 2022 edition of the Financial Times titled "Prospect of a united Ireland comes into sharp focus" mentions a recent poll taken in the Republic by a polling organization named "Ireland Thinks" founded by Kevin Cunningham, a lecturer in politics at Technological University Dublin. According to the FT, Cunningham's polling company "found 51% of respondents in the Republic of Ireland, where Sinn Féin is the most popular party, believed that there should be a referendum--and 57% would vote in favor."


      This FT article is well worth reading and may be accessed via this link: https://www.ft.com/content/53592270-98aa-4030-812a-dc019461b8d7 .


      I took the added step of contacting a good friend of mine who was prior to his recent retirement a partner in a large, commercial law firm in Dublin and is a keen and knowledgeable observer of Irish politics. He responded by noting that, although the vote would likely be "yes" for reunification, he believes that a sizable majority of Republic voters would reject the proposal, primarily because they would not welcome the bitterness and strife that would accompany the merging of the two parts of the island. He also remarked as follows:


      "The financial cost on the Republic will be massive but it will be significantly diminished by contributions from London (because London will be so relieved to rid itself of Northern Ireland). Separately, it's probably important to keep the independence of Scotland in mind: Brexit has changed everything. England wants to be rid of the other nations in the United Kingdom, despite mutterings to the contrary."


      JE comments:  A very interesting perspective--that England would prefer to go it alone.  Of course, by "England" we mean a lot of people in England, possibly including the decision makers.  I hope we'll hear some comments on this from our UK colleagues.  Regarding national acronyms, will "UK" go the way of the USSR?


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    • Northern Ireland: Brexit and Shifting Demographics (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/14/22 3:26 AM)
      The posts on Northern Ireland that Patrick Mears has sent have been very revealing about the possible scenarios and legal aspects. However, it did not seem to me that the possible causes of this change in the political landscape have been pointed out.

      I was talking to a friend of Irish origin, and he pointed out some causes in this context. My friend gave some interesting comments. Possibly Pat could comment.


      Firstly, there are many dissatisfied people in the population due to the way in which the Brexit customs protocols have affected them, making life more expensive and causing inconvenience for the free transit of people and goods.


      In addition, there have been significant demographic changes. Although the Protestant population is still the majority, their numbers have progressively decreased with respect to the Catholics, and the trend may lead to them becoming a minority in a few years.


      At the same time, the popularity and support of the DUP party has fallen sharply, largely due to its support for Brexit, which is highly unpopular among large segments of the population, both Catholic and Protestant. It should be remembered that 56% of the Northern Irish population voted against the United Kingdom leaving the EU and that many of the extraordinary benefits promised by that exit have not been fulfilled--many of which, as I understand it, were pure demagogic lies.


      JE comments:  A random thought, which may or may not be relevant.  How is the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) pronounced?  Is it D-U-P or read as a word (dupe)?  If the latter, it's unfortunate, both for the way it sounds in English and for its similarity to dupa (arse) in Polish.  The 30,000 or so Poles in the North must find this amusing, to say the least.  Or maybe they're used to such double entendres.  After all, the PiS party is in power back home.

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