Brexit: O’Neill discusses Northern Ireland’s place in the UK
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Overall, residents in Northern Ireland will elect 90 members to its General Assembly in Stormont, which is currently controlled by a majority Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Government. Since the country’s power-sharing agreement was established more than 20 years ago no nationalist party has ruled as the biggest political entity. But the pollsters expect that to change once Thursday’s election has passed.
The latest opinion polls suggest Sinn Fein, which was seen as the political wing of the IRA during the violence known as the Troubles, will be voted in as the biggest party in Northern Ireland.
For example, one survey in the country has revealed Sinn Fein’s lead over the DUP now stands at nearly 10 percentage points.
The poll first reported by the Irish Times shows Sinn Fein is currently polling with 26.6 percent of the vote, while the DUP and the Alliance Party are tied in second with 18.2 percent.
So if Sinn Fein does emerge victorious from 2022’s election, how exactly could this impact UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan?
At present, Mr Johnson’s administration is locked in talks with the European Union (EU) to try and re-write parts of a special Brexit deal coined the Northern Ireland protocol.
The deal, which was agreed in October 2019, allows for goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and removes the threat of a hard border.
But the arrangement has also resulted in what’s been labelled as an ‘Irish Sea border’.
Goods that now arrive in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subjected to more stringent checks and controls.
As a result, the Government has been pushing for the deal to be amended so that it may offer easier trade access to Northern Ireland.
Indeed, the DUP have vehemently backed this, stating the protocol has separated Northern Ireland from the UK and brought it closer to the EU.
However, Sinn Fein does not share this view and is instead in support of the existing deal.
The party holds long-term ambitions of a united Ireland and believes the changes being sought by the UK do not align with this goal.
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During an event in London last week, the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator David Frost urged unionists to direct their anger at Brussels rather than London to avoid weakening Mr Johnson’s hand in the negotiations.
Nonetheless, while a win for Sinn Féin would represent a historic feat, its powers would be constrained by the Northern Ireland Act of 1998, which shares power between nationalists and unionists.
The law transferred governance from Westminster to Stormont on the basis that the country would function as a power-sharing democracy, which would likely be between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
At the same time, the Executive is headed by a First Minister and a deputy First Minister, who have equal status and must act jointly.
When is the election?
Polling day is pencilled in for this Thursday with stations open from 7am to 10pm, though if you are queuing at 10pm you will still be admitted entry to vote.
You must be aged at least 18 or over to vote in Northern Ireland and signed up to the electoral register.
The results are expected to come through in the early hours and throughout the day this Friday, but some councils are also likely to declare on Saturday.
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