Sinn Féin: what is Northern Ireland’s nationalist party?

Advertisement

Election results in Northern Ireland mean that Sinn Féin is the largest party with the most seats in the Stormont Assembly

The results of the General Election in Northern Ireland have made Sinn Féin the largest party for the first time.

Advertisement

Sinn Féin, which won 27 seats overall in the last election, is a nationalist party that believes in Irish unification.

Register to our Mazic News Today Newsletter

Northern Ireland was created in 1921 after the partition of Ireland.

Advertisement

It is the fourth region in the UK and talks of Sinn Féin becoming the largest political party in the Northern Ireland Assembly have led to many asking questions about whether there will be an Irish Borders Poll.

Here’s everything you need to know about who Sinn Féin is, who their leader is and if there could be a border poll for a united Ireland.

Advertisement

Who is Sinn Fein?

Sinn Féin is an Irish republican political party which recently won the most seats in the general election in Northern Ireland.

Advertisement

The name Sinn Féin means to ourselves, or ourselves in Irish.

The party has been rooted in Irish politics since 1905 – before Ireland was divided.

Advertisement

However, it rose in popularity in the 1970s when it became the political wing of the IRA during the Troubles.

Sinn Féin is the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland with 27 MPs in the Northern Ireland Parliament.

Advertisement

She also has seven MPs in the House of Commons, but they do not take their seats.

They also have a political presence in Ireland, with 36 TDs in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), making them the official opposition party.

Advertisement

Who is Michelle O’Neill?

Michelle O’Neill, Chairwoman of Sinn Féin Northern Ireland, counts the elections in Magherafelt. (Image: Getty Images)

Michelle O’Neill is Vice-President of Sinn Féin and the party’s political leader in Northern Ireland.

Advertisement

Originally from the village of Clonoe, County Tyrone, she became involved in politics as a teenager after signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

She was first elected as a councilor for Dungannon in 2005 and later became the first female mayor.

Advertisement

In 2007 she was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time to represent Mid Ulster.

From 2020 she was Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland until the Assembly collapsed in February 2022.

Advertisement

What do the election results mean in Northern Ireland?

The results of the Northern Ireland elections mean that Sinn Féin is the largest party in Northern Ireland with the most seats in the Stormont Assembly.

Advertisement

Sinn Féin is able to nominate Northern Ireland’s First Minister for the first time.

There were concerns across the unionist community that there could be a border poll for Irish unification given the now ruling Sinn Féin majority.

Advertisement

Will there be a Sinn Féin First Minister?

Under the power-sharing agreement for the Northern Ireland Assembly, representatives of the main unionist and nationalist parties must be represented.

Advertisement

The two largest parties must appoint a first and a deputy minister who work together in the assembly.

Michelle O’Neil is nominated by Sinn Féin for the role of first minister, but so far the second largest party, the DUP, has said it will not appoint a deputy minister.

Advertisement

The DUP says they will not come to power over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was introduced after Brexit and establishes a trading border with Northern Ireland and the UK along the Irish Sea.

If the DUP does not appoint a Deputy Minister, the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot be installed.

Advertisement

The previous government of Northern Ireland collapsed in February 2022 after the then-DUP First Minister resigned under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In a statement, he said: “We need to address the outstanding issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and we want to do so in agreement with the EU, but as we have always made clear we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.

Advertisement

“However, the people of Northern Ireland need a stable and accountable government that delivers on the issues that are important to them. That is why we call on the parties to come together and form an executive.”

Will there be a border poll?

Advertisement

Sinn Fein’s goal is Irish unification and the party has committed to holding a border poll and is calling on the UK and Irish governments to set a date for this in their manifesto.

On May 6, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said planning for a border referendum must begin.

Advertisement

McDonald said: “I believe that the referendum would be possible within five years, but more importantly, I believe that the preparation must start now.”

However, under the rules for a referendum set out in the Good Friday Agreement, the UK Government’s Foreign Secretary for Northern Ireland can only call a border poll if it appears that a majority of voters want a united Ireland.

Advertisement

Although Sinn Féin is now the largest party in Northern Ireland, the election has brought a surge in support for the Alliance Party, which has no position in a border poll.

Last month, a poll conducted by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies/Irish News found that support for a united Ireland stood at 30%, while 45.3% opposed it.

Advertisement

Conservative Party leader Oliver Dowden confirmed to Sky News that he would abide by the border election rules if a majority of voters wanted it to.

Dowden said: “If there is sustained nationalist majority support for a united Ireland, it would have to be put forward in a referendum.”

Advertisement