No reconciliation after Northern Ireland election?

The Protestant unionist DUP has again emerged as the strongest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, with a slight lead over the Catholic nationalists of Sinn Féin. A coalition between the two parties collapsed in January amid a scandal over the DUP leader. According to the Good Friday Agreement both parties must form a government to support the peace process. Are Northern Ireland's sectarian groups drifting further apart?

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The Irish Times (IE) /

Tribal thinking still holds sway

The fact that the DUP barely lost votes despite a major scandal and that Sinn Féin actually gained some shows how sharp the divide between Protestants and Catholics continues to be, the Irish Times complains:

“The North's election has resolved nothing except to expose once again the reality that its institutions and its political culture remain mired in and gridlocked by sectarian headcount politics. It's not just that voters continue loyally, depressingly, to support the most tribal parties, and in increasing numbers, but that the dynamics within communities are such as to inhibit even any real internal accountability. Unionism and its voters, driven by the imperative of at all costs defeating Sinn Fein, can clearly not even put its own house in order. ”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Religious divides softening

The election in Northern Ireland has produced pleasing results, taz counters:

“For the first time there were tentative signs that the dividing lines between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists were being crossed. Ahead of the election the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which not so long ago dominated Northern Ireland's politics, had called on their voters in certain constituencies to give their second vote to each other in order to strengthen the moderate groups in the regional parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly. This strategy was only moderately successful. Only a few voters followed the appeal but this meant that the [Protestant] DUP lost seats in a number of constituencies. Another positive development was that the DUP didn't get the 30 mandates it needed for power of veto. So in theory Northern Ireland could enter the 21st century and for example legalise same-sex marriage and abortion, two things the DUP has prevented so far.”

The Times (GB) /

Ireland's reunification on the cards

The internal struggles of the pro-British Unionists and the upcoming Brexit could prompt residents of Northern Ireland to shift their allegiances from London to Dublin, The Times believes:

“This is a crisis for Unionism. Its solidarity and power base are eroding while nationalists are happy to sit back and watch it happening. Northern Ireland's voters have raised their heads from the trenches and are looking around for alternatives. The British government offers bland assurances but no guarantee that the UK leaving the EU, the single market and, probably, the customs union will not mean a hard border with the republic against free movement of goods and services. In that case, the obvious alternative is a hard border at British ports against crossers from Ireland or Northern Ireland - a sure way to enhance a sense of belonging together.”