When the people have their say, the message is clear
A Letter from Ireland
The results are in from last week's elections in the North of Ireland. Sinn Féin secured 144 seats in local councils. A record-breaking number for any party.
It consolidated the position as the largest party with an almost 31% vote share. A lead of over 7% from their nearest rivals the Democratic Unionist party.
In another first, Pro-Irish Unity Candidates out-polled Unionists, in a state gerrymandered to maintain a unionist majority.
Almost immediately the spin went into action. One unionist claimed that the election of so many Sinn Féin candidates was undermining the democratic process! Others claimed that nationalism had not won a historic victory as unionists had just stayed at home and so the election meant nothing.
Some unionist politicians pointed out that Nationalist voting share had been constant over the past 25 years. The rise of Sinn Féin was just a realignment of votes with the SDLP. In this election, the Sinn Féin vote increased by over 7% and the SDLP fell by just over 3%. Sinn Féin brought out a new and additional vote.
Unionism is in denial that their vote has collapsed over the same period. When the Good Friday Agreement was signed twenty-five years ago Unionism had an absolute majority in votes and seats in the Assembly. Unionism no longer has an absolute majority in the assembly and only has a one-seat advantage over Irish Unity parties. Sinn Féin is the largest party of government, and Michelle O’Neill is now the First Minister Elect.
In this election, for the first time, unionism fell behind Nationalism in terms of seats and votes in local government. To quote Yeats, “All has changed and changed utterly.”
The Good Friday Agreement placed the future constitutional position in the hands of the people. If a majority, in referendums North and South, voted for unity, then Ireland would be united. It is a peaceful and democratic pathway to unity.
In another vote twenty-five years ago, 71% in the North and 95% in the South endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. It became the will of the Irish People. It set the rules for a government, rights, and referendums.
Then less than 30% of voters, led by the DUP, opposed the agreement. They did not stop progress. Today less than 30%, again led by the DUP, oppose the agreement and the institutions. They cannot be allowed to stop progress.
Some oppose Irish Unity. That is fair enough. But they cannot undermine the democratic rights of the people to have their say in referendums.
Election after election has demonstrated no absolute majority for continued partition and union with Britain. The same can be said of the pro-Irish unity position. The default cannot be the status quo. Democracy is the default. Ask the people. Have an informed and respectful debate and allow the people a vote.
As an Irish Republican, I believe in the strength of the case for unity. An Irish government planning, preparing, and advocating for unity would be a game changer.
Last week was another way marker in Irish history. It is an exciting time, ripe with opportunity. Let's trust the people, let’s make the case for unity, and let the people have their say.
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.