The Secretary of State has warned that the failure of the major parties to form an Executive could result in a second election and cause “disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the people of Northern Ireland”. He has cancelled his trip to America this week for St. Patrick’s Day in order to focus on the talks, which he claims are at a “critical stage”, with the election of a new speaker for the Assembly postponed for two weeks.
Could another snap election see Sinn Fein flip the tables and gain the First Minister seat? With the historic unionist majority in Stormont now removed, and only 1100 first preference votes separating the two leading parties, it is a valid possibility after the highest turnout for a vote in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.
There is little doubt that Sinn Fein is reluctant to return to the Executive with the DUP if it continues to be led by Arlene Foster, whose role in the RHI remains to be investigated.
Arlene Foster referred to Sinn Fein, and by extension their supporters, as being like a ‘crocodile’ during an election campaign statement, insinuating that by giving them the Irish Language Act, they would only come back for more. A report by the Council of Europe found against the DUP’s decision to refuse to give an Irish language act, referring to the Irish language as the “hostage of sectarianism”.
Gerry Adams has spoken out against both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, implying that neither of them is helping with the negotiations. Within hours of Nicola Sturgeon announcing her intention for a second Independence Referendum for Scotland, Michelle O’Neill stood in front of the press at Stormont once again repeating the urgent need for a border poll for Ireland. If Brexit provides the “significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014” in Scotland, then does it not also provide the conditions for at least the consideration of an Irish border poll? The GFA states that a poll can be called by the Secretary of State if it appears that the “majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”. With 56% of people voting to remain in the EU in the June referendum and the removal of the unionist majority at Stormont, this condition has the potential to be fulfilled if properly campaigned on.
Can the PM and her government allow a Scottish independence referendum without properly addressing the issue of a Northern Irish border poll? Even more so for the area of the UK that will be most affected by their exit from the European Union.