Change is afoot in Northern Ireland… or is it? Last week’s Assembly election saw the end to the unionist majority in Stormont and the clock is now ticking for the DUP and Sinn Fein to form a power-sharing executive. It’s safe to say that the electorate is not keen to go to the polls again if no agreement is reached and instead want to see progress made around stability for NI in Brexit negotiations rather than re-hashed entrenchment along traditional lines.
With the SNP being the most vocal devolved voice in the UK, with immediate and loud chatter about the possibility of Indyref2, the Northern Ireland question risks being overshadowed. Not only are the Northern Irish electorate more progressive than their political parties, there is a strong desire amongst the public to ensure that soft borders to the Republic of Ireland remain.
There’s no doubt that thanks to Brexit, Northern Ireland’s economic and social stability, as well as the future of Anglo-Irish relations are on the line. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the old dividing line imposed by Irish partition in 1922 has in practice all but disappeared. Today, the free movement of people and trade is taken for granted and symbolises how communities want to be seen beyond their shared troubled past.
The impact of the UK Government taking their eye of the NI ball could have serious implications for a region seeking to have an equal voice in Brexit matters. As the old (ironic) slogan in Northern Ireland goes – vote early and vote often. Northern Irish politics is unpredictable and a gentle breeze can end in terrible results. The Government will need to make the Northern Irish border issue a top priority in talks with the EU, and work closely with the Irish Government in reaching a workable solution for all.