Further electoral gains for Sinn Fein has effectively turned the Six Counties into a two party statelet and created a situation unimaginable a decade ago.
Sinn Fein made major breakthroughs in unionist heartlands such as South Antrim and Lagan Valley, where it was third time lucky for Lisburn councillor Paul Butler.
And there were plenty of high-fives in west Belfast as near-perfect vote management converted the party’s 70% of first preferences -- an increase of over 4% -- into a sweetly-savoured gain from the DUP.
Sinn Fein hit its targets dead centre. Party general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin cantered home at the top of the poll in South Antrim and all three Sinn Fein candidates romped home on the first count in west Tyrone for another gain.
Elsewhere, the party was never in danger of losing a seat. There were clear indications of future gains, however, particularly in Upper Bann and potentially anywhere west of the Bann -- except possibly for Derry, still the SDLP’s traditional stronghold.
In terms of the greening of the North, there was a small 2% swing in favour of nationalism since 2003, maintaining a long-term trend. Despite the DUP gaining six seats, the unionist cause lost four seats overall -- two to nationalists and two to cross-community candidates.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that his party’s successes were “a massive endorsement of the peace process”.
“The people have spoken and they have said, ‘get on with it’, and that’s what Ian Paisley has to do.”
Speaking at a press conference following his re-election in his west Belfast constituency, Gerry Adams pressed both the British and Irish governments “to accept what the people overwhelmingly voted for” and to restore Stormont.
“Let’s go forward in the hope that everyone will act in a responsible way and that we will get the peace built and the political institutions in place. If that is not the case then we will deal with that,” he said.
“But I would not like to be a British secretary of state, or British prime minister or Taoiseach trying to explain when every issue has been dealt with, when all the excuses have been used up, why they would set aside a very, very clearly enunciated position. Let’s go forward in hope and confidence that we actually meet the challenges in the time ahead.”
He called on the Democratic Unionists to “exercise their mandate” and present themselves for nomination to the Executive without setting further conditions for Sinn Fein.
“We are not interested in excuses,” he added. “If the DUP have any genuine concerns about any issue, if they want us to look at it, we will look at it and look at it positively.”
Mr Adams said he recognised the DUP had come to the cusp of being involved in powersharing and all-Ireland arrangements, a journey which he said was “very difficult”.
“If they end up in the [Six County] institutions with the rest of us as I think, then we’ll forgive them for their colourful language and their OTT remarks . . . There is a sectarian streak in the DUP, and that has to be faced up to.”
The Sinn Fein president said he disagreed with Ian Paisley, “but I can respect his mandate”.
Referring to a comment this week by DUP Deputy leader Peter Robinson that power-sharing would be “a battle a day”, Mr Adams said there was nothing wrong with that
He added that if and when the DUP decided to enter an executive, their full participation would be assured. “When we get them in, they’re in . . .” he said.
Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the DUP knew the two governments’ so-called Plan B would be unpalatable for the DUP.
“If there is a failure to get the institutions up on March 26th, then there probably will be a political price to pay for that, because I think an awful lot of people will be very disappointed indeed.”
Asked if he would yield to Ian Paisley’s demand for republicans to repent for their actions during the conflict, Mr McGuinness said: “As a practising Catholic I repent all the time.”
The DUP’s confidence was also seen to be on the up following the election.
“We are not any longer going to be pushed around as if we were some sort of poor children needing help,” Ian Paisley declared in his acceptance speech.
“We’re just as good as any Welshman or any South African and we are entitled to have freedom.
“Our forefathers fought for it, our fathers fought for it, we have fought for it, and we’re going to have our birthright.
“We’ll not talk to Sinn Fein until they talk to the [ British] government and forswear their alliance with terror.”