Northern Ireland votes amid power sharing crisis

First time voter Thomas Copeland

With the election results declared, the DUP and Sinn Féin now have three weeks to try and form a new administration.

The election Thursday was the closest nationalists had ever come to becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland as the DUP held less than half of the seats for the first time.

The biggest parties are the DUP and Sinn Fein, followed by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Michelle O'Neill, who has replaced Martin McGuinness as leader of Sinn Fein in the north, said it is "not groundhog day" or "business as usual".

Early partial results from a ballot count expected to run until this afternoon pointed to solid gains for Sinn Fein amid the highest voter turnout since the 1998 peace deal.

The U.K. may have to reimpose direct rule on the region if the two biggest parties can not agree to enter government together again.

He said his real regret was that Northern Ireland society appeared to have emerged from the election more polarised.


However, Sinn Féin continues to call for Arlene Foster's resignation as DUP party leader while a full investigation of the heating scandal is carried out; if no government is formed Northern Ireland could return to what is called "direct rule" from London.

Britain's Northern Ireland minister James Brokenshire emphasised the importance of a "frictionless" border during talks in Brussels this week, and promised to "take no risks" with political stability in the province.

The result means pro-British unionist parties will no longer command a majority leadership for the first time since the province was created in 1921. Northern Ireland is heavily dependent on European Union aid, a majority of its voters rejected "Brexit" in last year's United Kingdom -wide referendum, and only the Democratic Unionists supported the move.

But in last week's election for the Northern Ireland assembly she abandoned the unionists, voting for the centrist Alliance party.

"Special thanks to my nearest and dearest", she added, "all my family whose live have been framed by my life as an MLA; they have supported me, campaigned for me, sacrificed so much for the life that I've led, having given so much to others, I thank them from the bottom of my heart".

Nationalist leaders believe the election has put Brexit centre stage in Northern Ireland in a way it has not been since the referendum.

At stake in the outcome from Thursday's snap election is the revival or demise of power-sharing between Catholics and Protestants, a central objective of the Good Friday Agreement. As she spoke, Unionist parties in the north of Ireland watched their support shrink to its lowest in almost 100 years.

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