Well the election is over, and we’ll now probably have a little while to wait before the next big vote that we can take part in. From yesterday afternoon through to this morning, I had one eye glued on the live updates to see if my prediction would come true.
This election was a great chance for a big change in Northern Irish politics. The DUP looked set to be shoved, brusquely, from their high, white “King Billy” horse. As it turned out, it was not to be. Not really anyway. It sort of happened, but not in the way that many would like.
As the last seat was handed out to the Green Party, the truth of what had happened hit home. There was no change, power-wise. The DUP and Sinn Fein remain the two strongest parties. The SDLP, UUP and Alliance all langushing behind. However, a couple of interesting things have occurred within that.
The change in “first preference vote share” for the parties is particularly interesting. I had imagined that the DUP had cooked their own goose with this latest RHI debacle. Interestingly, they lost a lot of the vote share, down 1.1% from last year, but managed to keep their power. Sinn Fein’s 3.9% increase is massive! This is largely, I think, down to how they’ve managed their response to the RHI scandal. Where the DUP was complaining about the Catholic menace of Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein were talking about actual political issues, which I think has pulled some SDLP (they lost 0.1% on last year) support their way. But also, the voter turnout was 10 odd% higher than last year, and I think that extra support has largely gone their way also.
The UUP and Alliance also experienced gains, 0.3% and 2.1% respectively. This was expected but I would have assumed that the numbers would have been the other way round.
A lot of focus has also fallen on the what could be the end to the DUP’s Petition of Concern frenzy. Northern Ireland’s LGBT community in particular will be interested to see how things develop from here, as the DUP have famously used the PoC in the past to block gay marriage. However, the PoC is not completely dead. The DUP need 30 signatures to put one forward, and the UUP and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) are both in the Assembly still, so signatures are there to be found. Will gay marriage happen for Northern Ireland in 2017? Hard to say, but my feeling is that the LGBT community will still be waiting for a few more years.
It’ll be interesting over the coming days and weeks, to see how the dust settles, and what changes, if any come forth. But on the face of it, it looks like it’s going to be largely business as usual at Stormont, with the DUP and Sinn Fein still sharing the majority of seats.
Let’s not discount the chance that there might be yet another election though. With the surge of support for Sinn Fein, the DUP no longer have a clear majority in Stormont. The DUP and Sinn Fein now have 3 weeks to make a government, or the public will be called back to the polls. Will they manage to form one? The DUP in particular are very stubborn so it’s not a sure fire thing. Keep your eyes peeled for another, even snappier, snap election.