Sinn Féin will be the largest party in Northern Ireland after elections on May 5, according to every recent opinion poll.
This would be a significant symbolic breakthrough for the left-wing party, historically linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). It will confirm the political and demographic shifts since the 1998 “Good Friday” peace agreement, which has ended the once hegemonic Unionist dominance of Northern Ireland. The election is also likely to see further growth of the centre ground parties – those who do not have a fixed position on the constitutional question.
The effect on Irish unity will be indirect rather than immediate. Under the terms of the 1998 peace agreement, a united Ireland can only be created, if majorities vote for it in separate referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All polls say a referendum will pass in the Republic, and while Brexit has seen a significant increase in support for Irish unity in Northern Ireland, most polls predict that a referendum would not pass there if called immediately, although the number of undecided voters may be as high as 25 percent. Those absolutely committed to Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom, are now a minority.
A nation once again… (sigh!)