Sinn Fein has won local elections in Northern Ireland and is calling for the government to be reinstated
LONDON — The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has won a landslide victory in Northern Ireland’s local elections, repeating its success in last year’s parliamentary elections when it became the largest party for the first time.
Sinn Fein, which wants Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland, won 144 of the 462 local government seats in the count late on Saturday – 39 more than in the last local elections in 2019. Its main rival, the Democratic Unionist Party, won 122 seats, while the centrist Alliance Party won 67.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the results were “significant”. He added that his party’s success is a message to voters that the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, paralyzed for more than a year, must return to business.
“This election was an opportunity to send a clear signal … of support for positive leadership and a party that wants to stand up for the General Assembly,” O’Neill said.
The semi-autonomous government in Belfast has been suspended since the DUP, which wants Northern Ireland to be part of the UK, walked out more than a year ago against a post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Under the power-sharing rules established by the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement, the main British Unionist and Irish Nationalist parties must govern together.
O’Neill said the DUP’s boycott of the assembly “cannot continue.” He urged the British and Irish governments to work together to help resolve the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
“Public services are suffering and the public is suffering because of the cuts,” he said. “The situation cannot be tolerated, there should be no more delays and I would like to see a plan on the table as to how we are going to get back to the table to make politics work and have a locally elected assembly. “
Politics in Northern Ireland has been deadlocked by a long-running dispute over the issue of customs checkpoints, which would be introduced after Britain leaves the country in 2020.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a border with an EU member state, Ireland. This border is particularly sensitive due to sectarian violence on the island of Ireland, and Britain and the EU have agreed to keep the border free of customs points and other checks to respect the peace process in Northern Ireland. Instead, goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK were inspected
This angered the DUP, which claimed the new trade deals would undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
In February, the United Kingdom and the European Union agreed to overcome the political crisis. The so-called Windsor Framework aims to ease customs checks and other barriers for goods from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.
The UK and the EU hailed the deal as a crucial breakthrough in their often fragile relationship. The deal also provides a mechanism known as the Stormont brake for Northern Ireland politicians to challenge new EU trade rules that apply – a key union demand.
However, the DUP rejected the deal and continued to refuse to take part in a power-sharing government.
Sinn Fein secured the largest number of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2022 with a historic victory. It was the first time they had defeated the DUP, which had dominated the legislature for two decades.