by Frank Schnittger
Sat May 7th, 2016 at 08:38:08 AM EST
On the surface the Northern Ireland assembly elections have resulted in a return of the status quo with the larger parties winning broadly the same number of seats. However there has been a generational change in many of the personnel involved, and in some ways the election marks a further milestone on the road towards the normalisation of Northern Ireland politics post the Good Friday Agreement.
As in the Republic of Ireland, the "others" category made up of Independents and smaller parties are the winners with the left wing People Before Profit party winning two seats and becoming the second party, after Sinn Fein, with representation on both sides of the border. For the first time, therefore, Sinn Fein is facing a significant challenge from it's left, both north and south of the Border.
Arlene Foster has consolidated her position as leader of the DUP (the Paisleyite Democratic Unionist Party) and First Minister which could also have repercussions for the Brexit debate as her party are campaigning for a Brexit from the EU. With the UUP (old establishment Ulster Unionist Party) campaigning with the Remain side, it looks as if the Brexit debate will not be conducted on purely sectarian lines with the UUP campaigning on the same side as Sinn Fein and the SDLP (Social Democrat and Labour) and Alliance (moderate, centrist, non-sectarian) parties.
The final results, just in, are: DUP, 38 seats (no change); Sinn Féin, 28 (down one); the Ulster Unionist Party, 16 (no change); the SDLP 12 (down two); Alliance, eight (no change); the Greens, two (up one); People Before Profit, two (up two); Traditional Unionist Voice, one (no change), and Independent unionist Claire Sugden (no change).
The distribution of seats within constituencies highlights the degree to which voting in N.Ireland is still very much on a territorial, tribal basis. Together the two unionist Parties, DUP and UUP have 54 seats, exactly half of the 108 seat assembly, whilst the two nationalist parties (Sinn Fein and SDLP) have 40 seats. The only minor bright spot being the three seat gain by the non-sectarian Alliance, Green, and People before Profit parties.