Election transformation


Thursday’s election has significantly altered the make-up of politics in the north of Ireland as a more focused and energised Sinn Fein enticed republican voters back to the polls and historically ended the unionist majority at Stormont.

In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their overall majority in the Assembly and now outnumber nationalists by just one seat. The DUP also ended ahead of Sinn Fein by just one seat, having entered the election ten seats ahead.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation after losing six seats, while DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster have evaded the media after her party plunged below the 30 seat threshold needed to trigger Stormont’s veto mechanism.

The nationalist SDLP also fared better than many expected, replacing the UUP as the third largest party in the Assembly and holding onto all of its seats.

With a jump of just under 4% in their vote, it was clear from early on that Sinn Fein were set to do well. However, the initial results gave little inclination as to the scale of the unionist collapse, with the two parties’ combined vote share down just 0.8%.

Magnified by the cut in the available seats and some unusual transfer patterns, the DUP and UUP ended up losing 16 seats in total, while Sinn Fein lost one and the SDLP none at all in the new 90-seat chamber.

In the end, the DUP emerged with 28 seats, Sinn Fein had 27, SDLP 12, the UUP 10, the Alliance Party eight, the Greens two, People Before Profit one, the Traditional Unionist Voice one and one independent unionist.

That leaves 40 unionists and 39 nationalist/republicans, with the remainder of the 90 Assembly members affiliated to neither tradition.

However, the results may be rendered moot if the main parties fail to a strike a deal to form a new powersharing executive within three weeks.

If that deadline passes, the British government are required to call yet another snap election, but it is expected instead to prorogue Stormont and reintroduce Direct Rule from London.

Sinn Fein re-energised its support base to not only hold the vast majority of its seats in the face of the cull, but it regained a third seat in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. However, this was cancelled by the loss of a seat in both East Antrim and in Upper Bann.

The party came within 1,200 votes first preference votes of topping the DUP for the first time.

It was undoubtedly a disastrous election for the DUP, which can no longer veto progressive change except with the support of other unionists.

Among the high profile politicians to lose their seats were the SDLP’s Alex Attwood, the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, and the DUP’s Nelson McCausland and Lord Morrow, four former Executive ministers who failed to secure a return to Stormont.

People before Profit (PBP) saw its increased support at the last election fall away as a result of Sinn Fein’s new political stance, and there was dismay for the party as veteran Derry-based socialist and party leader Eamonn McCann lost his seat, leaving just Gerry Carroll as sole PBP Assembly member in west Belfast.

With the prospect of future negotiations still unclear, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he would consider joining any new powersharing government. “We are very, very happy. This has been a fantastic turnaround for the SDLP. In a very poisonous atmosphere. We have come out with an increased support and I don’t think anybody was predicting that.”

Sinn Fein’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill said: “I think it’s a brilliant day for equality, I think it’s a great day for democracy.

“The vote has increased. I think that is because people knew that action needed to be taken, they have had their say, we now need to get down to the business of fixing what’s wrong and delivering for all citizens.”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he was ready to talk to the DUP. “I have talked to the DUP many times,” he said. “They are the same as the rest of us. They are decent enough people. They want good for their kids and so on.

“But they lost the run of themselves. You are living now in a totally different atmosphere. They got themselves in a little bubble. That bubble has been punctured by Martin McGuinness and by others...

“If you are the DUP, you have to realise that you are only going to get limited chances to deal with this.”


DUP 28.06% (-1.11%) 28 seats (-10)
SF 27.91% (+3.89%) 27 seats (-1)
SDLP 11.95% (-1.06%) 12 seats (-)
UUP 12.86% (+0.06%) 10 seats (-6)
Alliance 9.05% (+2.07%) 8 seats (-)
Green 2.31% (-0.39%) 2 seats (-)
PBP 1.76% (-1.04%) 1 seat (-1)
TUV 2.55% (-0.87%) 1 seat (-)
Ind. 1.79% (-1.04%) 1 seat (-)


Belfast North: SF 2, SDLP 1, DUP 2
Belfast West: PBP 1, SF 4
Belfast South,: Green 1, SF 1, SDLP 1, Alliance, DUP 1
Belfast East: Alliance 2, UUP 1, DUP 2
North Antrim: SF 1, UUP 1, DUP 2, TUV 1
East Antrim: Alliance 1, UUP 2, DUP 2
South Antrim: SF 1, Alliance 1, UUP 1, DUP 2
North Down: Green 1, Alliance 1, UUP 1, DUP 2
Strangford: Alliance 1, UUP 1, DUP 3
Lagan Valley: SDLP 1, Alliance 1, UUP 1, DUP 2
Upper Bann: SF 1, SDLP 1, UUP 1, DUP 2
South Down: SF 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1
Newry and Armagh: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1
Fermanagh: SF 3, UUP 1, DUP 1
West Tyrone: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1
Mid Ulster: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1
Foyle: SF 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1
East Derry: SF 1, SDLP 1, DUP 2, Ind. 1

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