November 28, 2003

Polarisation in Ulster

Even though it has been suspended for over a year, elections have been held this week for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Due to the result, it is unlikely that the suspension will end any time soon.

Despite the IRA ceasefire and destruction of weapons and the attempt to ease tensions through the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland has become more polarized. In the proportional representation which determines the Assembly membership, the Ulster Unionists and the Assembly's First Minister David Trimble are no longer the largest party. The have been supplanted by Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party.

On the other side, the moderate Social Democratic Labour Party is no longer the largest of the Catholic groups. Sinn Fein, the political side of the IRA, has now become ascendant.

The Northern Ireland executive has been a coalition, with ministers drawn from of all the major parties. When both the DUP and Sinn Fein had two ministers things were difficul at best. The DUP refuses to even speak to members of Sinn Fein. Now that both will be entitled to greater representation in the executive, provincially-based government will be virtually impossible.

One member of the SDLP has said that it could be ten years before power is returned to Strormont. This suits the DUP, because they never wanted devolution in the first place. However, the DUP will lose in the end. Ten years is also how long it may be before Catholics outnumber the Protestants.

Posted by david at November 28, 2003 10:01 PM | TrackBack