LGBT people across England, Scotland and Wales have been getting married for up to four years now but marriage equality has still yet to be achieved in Northern Ireland. A number of separate attempts have been made to legalise the practice through legislation at Stormont, but so far all have been unsuccessful. These attempts include one vote where a majority of MLAs backed same-sex marriage but didn’t pass because of a unionist petition of concern. However it does appear that political leaders in Northern Ireland are beginning to change their tune as public opinion has shifted. Although the existing dispute goes largely down green and orange lines, some unionist politicians seem to be softening their stance.
In the 2015 the DUP and the UUP formed an informal electoral alliance whereby the parties agreed not to run candidates in certain constituencies so as not to split the unionist vote. The result of this, in collaboration with some other local factors, was that unionist candidates in two constituencies, namely Fermanagh and South Tyrone and East Belfast, defeated non-unionist incumbents. However, in the last few days it was announced that the DUP and the UUP will not pursue such a pact in the upcoming general election. This needs to be exploited by the republican movement before the opportunity passes.
After a short election campaign full of tense exchanges and talk of the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement, the results are in. The story from the election is complex but the immediate reaction is the following. Sinn Féin wagered that bringing down the executive, in my view justifiably, would curry favour with the electorate. This shows to have been a correct estimation as the party massively increased their share of the vote Alliance also gained and this is thought to have come from unionists who are disaffected with the DUP.
One of the many definitions of politics is that it is a collaborate effort between different social groups with the purpose of resolving disputes. As a result of this definition, a variety of government systems have been designed by political scientists, and many of these focus on the idea of consensus. Northern Ireland is a prime example of a consensus system, as opposed to the majoritarian system of Westminster. Consensus systems are designed to stop policy-making from occurring when there is no consensus. This mechanism is essentially to prevent one social group dominating another, but apparently some parts of Northern Irish civil society are unaware of this concept.
The Northern Ireland Assembly held elections on Thursday and the final results have been announced. Unlike other pieces I have written about the elections in other parts of the UK, I want to focus on themes that emerged rather than breaking down the election along party lines. The headline is that that the DUP remains the largest party and Sinn Féin finished second. This will probably result in a similar political settlement as before the election, which may well lead to the same stalemate, but the specific results show that there is a growing hostility towards the traditional parties.
I’m going to preface this article by saying that I am not from Northern Ireland, I have never lived in Northern Ireland and I have never even visited the place. I’m also going to declare my support for the unification of Ireland in line with Ulster’s republican parties such as Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Nevertheless I am now going to defend the British imperialism-apologists also known as the DUP and the UUP because what Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said at the Tory Party Conference today illustrated how she fundamentally doesn’t understand Northern Ireland.