Why is Northern Ireland in political turmoil right now (2017)?

Agreeing with others that there’s no political turmoil as such – certainly not as compared with many, many times in the past.

However, we do have two majority parties that seem to be more interested in hating each other than in looking after us, the voters.

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, is probably more hard-line than even Ian Paisley was: her father was shot by the IRA virtually in front of her, and she was later almost killed when her schoolbus was blown up by the IRA. I believe these experiences and their impact on her make her the last person who should have been considered for leadership of a party in a power-sharing executive. Certainly, she seems to have been determined to thwart Sinn Fein at every turn. Sinn Fein, under Martin McGuinness – who had a warm relationship with Ian Paisley, despite their political differences – seem to have given up trying to make any headway against her intransigence. Foster, before her rise to leadership, oversaw a renewable energies scheme that was questionably handled. Undoubtedly, she should have recused herself as First Minister during the enquiry, as requested by Sinn Fein: they didn’t ask her to resign, just to step aside for a few weeks. However, she refused point-blank to do so, seemingly just because it was Sinn Fein that asked. As a result, Sinn Fein pulled out of the power-sharing executive, forcing an election.

The Assembly elections in March were maybe, possibly, perhaps a tiny spark of light at the far end of a tunnel that just might not be of infinite length. The DUP (who ran on one policy – preventing Sinn Fein getting a majority) saw their vote very nearly collapse. They squeaked a tiny majority, not enough to allow them to ride roughshod over everyone else. Sinn Fein did well, but not well enough to beat the DUP to the First Minister’s post.

This, believe it or not, is actually good news.

Some other good news was the leader of the UUP (a moderate unionist party), Mike Nesbitt, announcing that he, personally, would give his second preference vote* to the SDLP, a moderate nationalist party, instead of to the DUP, a fellow unionist party. While it backfired on him, forcing his resignation and losing the party seats, there is some evidence that UUP voters DID give their second preference to SDLP candidates and vice versa. A SDLP/UUP power-share would be, if not good for Northern Ireland, then a hella lot better than the Sinn Fein/DUP brawling we’ve endured recently. Another good bit of news was that the Alliance Party (centrist) increased their share of the seats.

This hints that voters might be moving towards a more normalised political landscape in NI.

But, it’s not enough. Not yet.

Meanwhile, we’re mired in power-sharing talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein, neither of whom are giving an inch, and public services are going unfunded. If the talks fail again, the options are either another Assembly election, or direct rule from Westminster. Public opinion is divided on these options. Some are sick of the in-fighting and want direct rule, others see direct rule by a run-amok Tory party as disastrous for the region.

Theresa May today (18 April 2017) announced a snap Westminster election, despite her frequent protestations that she wouldn’t. This might solve the immediate question of an election re-run or direct rule, as we could fold an Assembly election into an all-UK election (we do elect MPs to Westminster as well to the Stormont Assembly).

What the outcome could be… I don’t know. I’d like to see more moderate parties take over, but there’s also the possibility that the recent Assembly election result could frighten voters back into their sectarian foxholes.

* – we use the D’Hondt method of proportional representation voting. I only vaguely understand the details, but it’s better for NI than first-past-the-post.


In the UK, should I spoil my ballot or just not vote? I just don’t like the current candidates, and I feel like I’d be whining about a problem no one can fix, and for which I’m not offering solutions either.

Either of those options is a vote FOR the status quo.

If you’re happy with the Tories’ continuing policy of austerity, handling of Brexit, under-funding of health and education, and selling off the NHS, by all means, spoil your vote or don’t vote.

If you are NOT happy with any of the above, vote for someone, anyone, to get the Tories out.

Currently, that’s Labour. With all their internal problems, it’s unlikely Labour will poll enough to form a government, but they might do so in coalition with the Liberals.

The Tories have a slender majority in parliament at the moment – about 13. This makes them reliant on the votes of minority parties, such as the Northern Ireland Unionists, to pass contentious legislation. However, around THIRTY of their MPs are facing charges for defrauding expenses. Mrs May had to call a snap election, or risk her government falling if just 1/3 of those MPs end up in court. The Tories are hoping to translate their lead in the polls into a landslide which will see them no longer having to rely on the Unionists (who are being a pain in the nether regions by refusing to form an Executive in Northern Ireland).

Every vote against the Tories and for a credible (even if only barely) alternative is a wake-up call to the Tories that their policies are failing us, the voters. Even if they do win, if they limp in to government with a similarly small majority – or less – it might just force a re-think of some of their policies.