Sinn Féin is the largest party in Northern Ireland

Nationalist party Sinn Féin scored a “tsunami” of votes for a better-than-expected victory in Northern Ireland’s council elections, widely seen as a verdict on the region’s post-Brexit stalemate.

After counting was completed early on Sunday morning, Sinn Féin won six of the 11 councils, cementing its place as the largest party in the region. This beats predictions that they will win 144 of the 462 council seats, up 39 from the last election in 2019.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which previously controlled six councils, came second, repeating the historic reverse of last year’s regional assembly election in Stormont.

In the deeply divided region, the Alliance party, which claims to be neither unionist nor nationalist, took third place with 67 councillors, after its leader Naomi Long described Sinn Féin, the pro-Irish unity party, as “almost a tsunami of votes”.

Although Sinn Féin won some seats in traditionally staunchly unionist areas where it had never won before, analysts said the result was far from a washout for the DUP.

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“It’s a very good result for the DUP,” University of Liverpool politics professor Jon Tonge told the BBC’s Northern Ireland news agency.

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The largest pro-UK group has been boycotting the region’s power-sharing government and assembly in Stormont for more than a year, demanding further concessions on Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade rules with Britain and hoping to turn the council elections into a proxy vote. changes it. to support your campaign.

DUP supporters did not migrate en masse to the harder-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, which lost support in last year’s Stormont elections and retained all 122 seats, albeit without a gain.

DUP lawmaker Jonathan Buckley told BBC Northern Ireland that it was a “very solid election” for his party. He accused Chris Heaton-Harris, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, of “bullying” to try to get him to return to Stormont, saying other parties had also “clashed” over it.

Analysts said the result left the way open for DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to take his party back into the Stormont establishment, which some analysts said could happen after the traditional unionist marching season in July.

“If [Donaldson] returns to Stormont in the autumn. . . he’s not going to go back with his tail between his legs because, frankly, the DUP vote went really, really well,” Tonge said.

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The DUP has objected to the Irish Sea customs border imposed by Brexit, saying the revised deal known as the Windsor Framework agreed by London and the EU earlier this year to streamline trade rules does not go far enough to guarantee region location of the United Kingdom and its internal market.

Exactly what would lure it back to Stormont remains to be determined, but the UK government has promised legislation to tie Northern Ireland copper within the UK and is widely expected to provide some financial stimulus. “It strengthened Jeffrey’s hand,” said Alex Kane, former communications director of the minor Ulster Unionist party.

But he warned the clock was ticking on the DUP to lift the boycott with a major US investment conference in Belfast in September. “If the Unionists don’t come back.” [Stormont] investors don’t come there.”

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s first minister-in-waiting, called ministers from the UK and Republic of Ireland at the weekend to meet “urgently” to help restore power-sharing institutions. London and Dublin have said they plan to meet within weeks.

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Despite what O’Neill called a “significant” victory, his party faces a number of challenges if they are to restore power-sharing, fulfilling their political commitments at a time when Northern Ireland is facing unprecedented financial difficulties.

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Civil servants running Stormont in the absence of a government have warned of further cuts that could cause irreversible damage to the health service, which has the UK’s longest waiting lists, and other public services such as education.

Sinn Féin’s victory at the weekend cemented its place as the region’s biggest party, but local election results failed to secure support for its goal of holding a referendum on a united Ireland within a decade.

Candidates supporting Irish reunification won 40.5 percent of the vote, compared to 53.1 percent of those who wanted to remain in the UK. However, it was much closer in terms of seats, with 186 unionist councilors returned compared to 185 nationalists, according to Ulster University politics lecturer Professor Duncan Morrow.

“You can’t equate a vote for Sinn Féin with a united Ireland – there was no talk of a united Ireland in this campaign,” said Deirdre Heenan, professor of social policy at the University of Ulster.

“What this election has really confirmed is that Northern Ireland is now a three-party state.”