A Game of Pacts: the election in Northern Ireland

By Ronan Burke

Division isn’t new in Northern Ireland, especially in elections. Since its first Westminster elections in 1922, Northern Irish parties and voters have divided into two camps on one issue: religion. If you’re a Catholic, you vote for a Nationalist party, such as Sinn Féin. If you’re a Protestant, you vote for a Unionist party, such as the DUP. It’s green vs. orange – plain and simple. Some academics joke that Northern Irish elections may as well be censuses.

Just like loyalty to one’s religion, these divisions were thought to have been unshakeable. But this December, we may see change. This December, the green-orange electoral battle may give way to a battle between Remain and Leave.

It’s green vs orange – plain and simple

Casting back to 2016, Northern Ireland voted to Remain with a 56-44 majority. In typical Northern Irish fashion, the result was divided, with Unionists voting Leave and Nationalists Remain. Why? Well, for Unionists, Leave was a part of a broader expression of British identity, while for Northern Nationalists, the EU was underpinning a common Irish identity with the Republic, not to mention fears over the B word. But it’s not Brexit – it’s the Border.

This December, we may see change – a battle between Remain and Leave

Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the Border has become an elephant in the room. We all knew it was there, but we largely ignored it and got on with our lives. Living in the border city of Newry, multiple schoolmates of mine lived in the Republic, crossing the border every day for school in the North; our lives are built around a seamless border.

The border defined the 2017 snap-election, returning 10 DUP and 7 Sinn Féin MPs Orange and Green reigned supreme, with Northern Ireland more polarised than ever. So why can this change?

The border has become an elephant in the room.

Since Sinn Féin don’t take their seats, the DUP has been the sole Northern Irish Westminster voice for the duration of the Brexit process. This means that North- ern Ireland, which voted strongly to Remain, have been solely rep- resented by the most hard-line Brexiteers in Westminster. But this time, it could be very different.

This time around, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Greens have joined in a ‘Remain Alliance’ of sorts in attempts to oust DUP MPs and minimize the ‘Leave’ voice. This is unchartered territory as, while SDLP and Sinn Féin have competed belligerently for the Nationalist vote for decades, both are standing aside in three seats each to allow the other party a clearer chance. Particular attention is being paid to North and East Belfast, where polling suggests DUP could lose both MPs, including their Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds.

Polling suggests these pacts have a good chance of taking DUP seats.

The Alliance Party, regarded as the sole occupier of the Northern Irish centre-ground, have snubbed these pacts to the disappointment of many.

Polling suggests these pacts have a good chance of taking DUP seats. Orange vs. green could be blurring. But like everything else about this December election, we can never be sure.

Image by Belfast Stormont Parliament via Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “A Game of Pacts: the election in Northern Ireland

  • Good article. Hard to find coverage of NI politics in the UK media despite its importance. Thanks


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