The nationalist Sinn Féin party was on course for its best ever local election result in Northern Ireland on Saturday, in a contest widely seen as a vote on the region’s post-Brexit political stalemate.
The party, which supports Irish unity, won seats on councils it had never won before and opened a wide lead over the Democratic Unionist Party, the region’s largest party in favor of keeping the Irish unity Northern Ireland in the UK.
Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Féin prime minister-in-waiting, called it a “momentary election result”. By early afternoon, his party had added 26 seats by its tally in the 2019 municipal elections, winning 124 of 462 seats in 11 councils to the DUP’s 105. Full results were to be counted by late evening.
Small nationalist and unionist parties have suffered big hits while the centrist Alliance party, which came third in Assembly elections last May, was expected to win the third most councilors .
O’Neill appealed to London and Dublin — as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement which ended Northern Ireland’s three-decade conflict in 1998 – to help end the DUP’s boycott of the executive and power-sharing assembly in Stormont.
The DUP brought the regional politics at a standstill since last May’s Assembly elections in a bid to push for further changes to post-Brexit trade rules which he said undermined Northern Ireland’s role as part of the UK.
“I think the responsibility now lies very much with both governments,” O’Neill told the BBC Northern Ireland. “I am now calling on the two governments as co-guarantors to actually come together… through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, organize this meeting as a matter of urgency, put a plan on the table… How are we going to have a restored executive?
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was “very happy that our vote held”. Doug Beattie, leader of the small Ulster Unionist Party, said he was disappointed with the results.
There was no immediate reaction from London or Dublin. The UK and EU this year agreed the Windsor Framework to streamline trade rules.
The DUP said its stance on post-Brexit trade deals had secured significant change, but insisted more was needed.
The municipal election results are the latest in a series of setbacks for Northern Irish trade unionism. Sinn Féin overtook the DUP as the region’s largest assembly party last May, and Catholics now more numerous than Protestants in Northern Ireland, according to the latest census data.
“This [result] is going to change the landscape,” Sarah Creighton, a lawyer and labor commentator, told the BBC Northern Ireland.