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Northern Ireland consists of six counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry. These form two-thirds of the historical province of Ulster - three other majority-Catholic counties were retained by the republic: Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. From a Unionist perspective, the term "Ulster" suggests a greater level of distinctiveness from the Republic of Ireland than the term "Northern Ireland". The protestant or unionist collective term Ulster, is deliberately provocative to nationalists. Returning the favor, catholics say they are from 'Derry' - droping 'london' in order to disassociate themselves with the United Kingom. Republicans also don't like the name Northern Ireland, preferring instead the North of Ireland (implying Ireland is still one entity) or sometimes even 'the Six Counties'.

Over two decades after from the Good Friday peace agreement, Northern Irish politics is still dominated by nationalism and unionism. Moderate parties rarely fare well. Under the terms of a 1998 peace accord which brought stability to the region the two parties - Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein - must share power. The devolved government at Stormont collapsed after a financial scandal boiled over into wider disputes between the pro-British DUP and republican party Sinn Fein. Since Sinn Fein pulled out of the executive in January 2017 the territory has been managed by its civil service, without ministerial direction. An election would be called if the executive was not reformed by 13 January 2020 as legislation allowing the civil service to run the region would expire.

Negotiations to revive Stormont snagged on disagreements over the provision for Irish language in the province and a controversial mechanism which gave minority movements the power to veto legislation. A draft deal was released 09 January 2020 jointly by British secretary of state for Northern Ireland Julian Smith and Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney, reflecting the Republic's role as co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the region's 30-year conflict known as "The Troubles".

Northern Ireland's government reopened for the first time in three years on 10 January 2020 after rival parties rallied around a new power-sharing deal aimed at helping the province face the challenges of Brexit. The new deal, entitled “New Decade New Approach”, was published by the Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney and by the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith on January 9. On January 10, politicians gathered in the parliamentary buildings in Stormont, Belfast, to choose a new Executive. Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), was appointed as first minister and Republican Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill would serve as her deputy.

Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party, fell just short of becoming the largest party in March 04, 2017 elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Democratic Unionist Party led with 28 seats, just one more than Sinn Fein’s total. The Democratic Unionists were narrowly on top with 28.1 percent, down 1 point from the last election 10 months ago. Sinn Fein trailed with 27.9 percent, up 4 points, the narrowest sectarian gap in Northern Ireland electoral history. At stake in the outcome from the snap election was the revival or demise of power-sharing between Irish Catholics and British Protestants, the central objective of the US-brokered Good Friday peace accord nearly two decades ago.

The DUP topped the polls in the May 2016 devolved election, winning 38 seats. Sinn Fein, the former party of the Irish Republican Army, finished second. The two parties - sworn enemies throughout the Troubles - had controlled the power-sharing government for almost a decade.

In Northern Ireland winter is the season for political crises. True to form, on 10 January 2017, Martin McGuinness, from the Irish republican party Sinn Fein, resigned as deputy first minister, triggering fresh elections. His resignation automatically removed Arlene Foster, the leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), as the First Minister cannot hold the position without a co-equal Deputy First Minister. Sinn Fein, once the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), had governed with the rival DUP for 10 years under power-sharing arrangements that put an end to three decades of sectarian violence.

Many feared that Northern Ireland would have no government in place at arguably the most important moment in its modern history: Brexit. This year's crisis could prove to be the most serious since the Good Friday peace agreement was signed in 1998. Unusually the current difficulties have nothing to do with flags, parades or the legacy of the 30-year-long Troubles that cost more than 3,000 lives. At the core are fundamental questions about whether nationalists and unionists can work together in a devolved government.

The Assembly elections - the second in 10 months - took place on 02 March 2017. The Democratic Unionist Party won Northern Ireland's parliamentary elections, edging ahead of Sinn Fein by a single seat. At 65 percent, voters turned out in their highest numbers in the vote, the UK's first regional election since last summer's Brexit referendum. Unionist candidates, Protestants' preferred choice, captured less than half the seats for the first time. The DUP won 28 of the 90 seats, but the surging Sinn Fein almost wiped out the 10-seat advantage that the unionists had secured in elections a year ago. The result meant pro-British unionist parties no longer commanded a majority leadership for the first time since the province was created in 1921. The parties had three weeks to form a government to avoid Northern Ireland's devolved power returning to the UK Parliament at Westminster for the first time in a decade.

The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, which seeks unification with Ireland, hailed a “new era” 07 May 2022 for Northern Ireland as it captured the largest number of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in a historic win. With almost all votes counted from Thursday's local U.K. election, Sinn Fein secured 27 of the Assembly’s 90 seats. The Democratic Unionist Party, which has dominated Northern Ireland’s legislature for two decades, captured 24 seats. The victory means Sinn Fein is entitled to the post of first minister in Belfast — a first for an Irish nationalist party since Northern Ireland was founded as a Protestant-majority state in 1921. The centrist Alliance Party, which doesn’t identify as either nationalist or unionist, also saw a huge surge in support and was set to become the other big winner in the vote, claiming 17 seats.

The victory was a major milestone for Sinn Fein, which has long been linked to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that used bombs and bullets to try to take Northern Ireland out of U.K. rule during decades of violence involving Irish republican militants, Protestant Loyalist paramilitaries and the U.K. army and police. “Today ushers in a new era,” Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said shortly before the final results were announced. “Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work."

O'Neill stressed that it was imperative for Northern Ireland's divided politicians to come together next week to form an Executive — the devolved government of Northern Ireland. If none can be formed within six months, the administration will collapse, triggering a new election and more uncertainty.

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Page last modified: 17-05-2022 16:54:04 ZULU