Since it's St. Pat's season and many of us are Catholic or Irish and might vaguely care about this, figured I would post about an issue I keep a close eye on.http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/ ... 01158.html
In the election in Northern Ireland today, what had been a huge unionist majority evaporated. For the first time, there are nationalist (in favor of a United Ireland) and unionist (in favor of continuing as part of the United Kingdom) blocs of roughly equal size: 40 unionists, 39 nationalists, and 11 non-committed members in the Northern Irish Assembly.
This sea change has been brought on by four main factors:
. The UK as a whole voted to leave the EU but a substantial majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. The largest unionist party, the DUP, is very pro-Brexit and even paid for advertisements on the issue that ran in England. This was the first general election since the Brexit referendum. There is also a large and growing concern about how Brexit will affect Northern Ireland. Everyone born in the North currently has the right to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship, and the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have shared a Common Travel Area without hard borders since the 1920s. Both arrangements are unlikely to persist in the same way post-Brexit.
. The Catholics/nationalists (here, broadly interchangeable) are much younger and having more children than the Protestants/unionists.
. Related to demographics, young people are much less likely to vote. But turnout was up 10% from the last election, with the nationalist bloc gaining substantial support in first preference votes (Northern Ireland uses a complicated transferable vote system)
. The DUP presided over a program called the RHI, the Renewable Heat Incentive, which was intended to subsidize more modern and environmentally friendly boiler systems. However, this program was massively flawed: there was no cap on the amount of subsidy one person or business could receive, so those who qualified under the program frequently ran their heaters literally 24/7, as it was profitable to waste all the heat. In total the impact of this scandal is going to cost Northern Ireland more than £500 million in a country of under 2 million people.
Overall, the surge of nationalist parties into true parity with unionist parties will be making a lot of people nervous. Northern Ireland has never had a government led by nationalists, although under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement all parties enter into a unity government, so there's not a lot of immediate political consequence if nationalists won a permanent narrow majority. However, the Good Friday Agreement also allows nationalists in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland to petition for referendums in both countries at a time of their choosing. If both referendums voted in favor, the UK is committed to the prospect of a United Ireland. Combined with continued constitutional questions in the UK and a possible second Scottish independence referendum coming up soon, many unionists are rightly nervous about the future of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is a source of massive misunderstanding and misinformation in the U.S., so feel free to ask me any questions you're curious about.