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Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2017

Partnership And Progress - Both In The Wind!

With Arlene Foster saying no to an opposition continuing to push their ‘radical agenda’ and Sinn Fein saying ‘we’ll go into Government but not with you’, it beggars belief to think what the election on the 2nd of March will achieve. What or who is going to change? Remember, the last election was in May 2016! Who will break the mold and surprise us at the polls or who will be willing to compromise to avoid the threat of direct rule?

The botched Renewable Heat Incentive has offered Sinn Fein solid campaigning material, have no doubt, but where is the stability in NI politics? Where is the support from London? From Dublin? From each other? The lack of cohesion in NI politics is very evident right now, to the point where it is hard to believe how well things have run in recent years.10 years of power sharing has brought them to this point. Northern Secretary James Brokenshire could be left with no other option but to suspend Stormont to avoid a third election.

So what challenges does this election bring to all concerned? Well for one, there are fewer seats, going from 108 down to 90. Seats in each of the North’s 18 constituencies are reducing from six to five. The reason they cut the number of seats is that NI was considered overrepresented. This change won’t hit the top two parties as much as it will the UUP, with Mike Nesbitt’s party under pressure and tipped to lose up to 6 seats.

Another important difference in this election is the absence of Martin McGuinness, a huge presence on the nationalist side. Just how significant his absence will be for Sinn Fein is yet to be seen and with the current Minister of Health Michelle O’ Neill being named as the new leader of Sinn Fein, it will be interesting to see how she will work with Arlene Foster if she gets the chance.

Back in March 2016, Arlene Foster said that a “swing of only two votes in every 100 from the DUP to Sinn Féin would see Martin McGuinness become the next First Minister”. Fast forward to 2017 and on March 2nd that outcome won’t be possible but an updated version of it could be. With women now leading from the front in terms of party leaders in NI, will the direction at the top change? Michelle O’ Neill has, thus far, given us no indication that she will operate any differently from her predecessor.

The UUP, SDLP, and Alliance play the role of supporting cast but their presence on the ground is being felt, out in force canvassing daily now. Their message, however, is still unclear, all aware that they need to work together but all consumed by their own agendas, unable to strategically plot out how they may help each other become a force in Government. They have been sidelined for too long and groups like the SDLP are calling for the middle ground to be elected, so the GOTV push is strong, whether it’s strong enough, well we won’t know that until today.

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