06 Mar

A Wry Eye – The sky hasn’t fallen in (yet)

HAVING checked each day since the Assembly election results came in, we can confirm that the sky is still above us, the sun is still rising, and the ground below us remains solid.

Apart from that, the only thing certain is the period of uncertainty we now embark on – where negotiations, deals, squabbling, compromise (or lack thereof) will pre-occupy every exhausted political correspondent for the next three weeks.

There can be no doubt that things have undergone a “seismic change”, and it has attracted the attention of just about everyone who has ever had a thought about politics in Norn Iron.

Indeed, social media is fit to burst with posts from pundits, first time voters, casual observers and those despairing about the future.

Stepping away from the hyperbole, let’s take a wee breath and see what we can make of it all. First thing was the turn-out. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this election, it is a real boost for democracy that so many more people came out to cast a vote (although there was still a significant number of no shows).

It was, of course, a set of results that are remarkable in many ways: which is why every Tom, Dick and Harriet has been remarking about them.

We’ll attempt our own brief summary. The DUP ‘won’ but lost. They are still the biggest party, but only just. They lost some of their big hitters in Nelson McCausland and party chairman Lord Morrow.

Sinn Féin gave a masterclass in vote management, coming within 2 seats of becoming the largest party in the Assembly.

The UUP will be disappointed after winning just 10 seats – prompting Mike Nesbitt to step down as leader.

The SDLP did ‘okay’, holding onto its 12 seats but seeing a decline in vote share.

The Alliance Party did very well, keeping its 8 seats and seeing an unprecedented increase in its share of the vote. The Green Party also held onto its 2 seats, despite a modest dip in vote share.

Does all of this mean that high-profile policy issues like same-sex marriage will come to pass? With less than 30 Assembly seats, the DUP are no longer in a position to unilaterally use a Petition of Concern to block things they don’t like, but the battle is far from over; Jim Allister plus one Ulster Unionist would be enough to hit the 30 mark.

What happens next? Today, all the newly elected MLAs will go along to Parliament Buildings, sign something to say they will be good little boys and girls, and then immediately start arguing (a.k.a. negotiations).

If, after a few weeks of arguing, no Executive is formed, the secretary of state, James ‘Why Me’ Brokenshire will, by law, be forced to call another election in what is described as “a reasonable timeframe”.

Or, Mr Brokenshire might report back to his Cabinet colleagues that legislating for Direct Rule seems kinder on the tired political hacks and pundits…

Neither choice is particularly appealing, and we aren’t silly enough to make predictions about what way the cards will fall. All we know is that negotiations will start today. We’d love to be a fly on the wall!

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