So as the dust settles on the count of the 2017 election what does the future hold for Northern Ireland?
First lets look at the facts:
- DUP did secure the largest vote but only by 12oo from Sinn Féin
- Of the 18 seats that the Assembly lost 16 were Unionist (10 DUP, 6 UUP)
- There is a virtual dead heat in the parties who will form OFMDFM (28 DUP, 27 SF)
- No party by itself can lodge a petition of concern (30 votes required)
- The Unionists are not in a majority in Stormont for the first time EVER (40 Unionist, 39 Nationalist 11 Other)
Whatever the reasons for going into the election the unionists have done themselves no favours. Whether it was the DUP support of Brexit or their involved in the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) debacle or they abuse of power with PoCs being just one part of that, unionism has lost big.
Does this mean we are moving to a normalisation of politics? Well listening to the debates before and the comments after it is clear that maybe the politicians especially in the big two parties are far from ready for that, but elsewhere it is possible. UUP to SDLP transfers and vice versa along with those party that designate as other means that these could actually form the largest bloc with 33/4 MLAs . It may mean that a progressive centralist agenda might stand a chance of being advanced especially with the difficulty of others lodging a petition of concern.
There are still a lot of question marks that the next three weeks of negotiations may not provide full answers for, if they provide an answer at all. So we shall have to see if an era of progressive politics may actually have finally arrived in Northern Ireland, if policy commonality rather than community are more important.
We live in interesting times. Watch this space.
Maybe even join us.