SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A news conference was held Monday by Congressman Richard Neal at the U.S. District Court in Springfield on the recent 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections.
The elections were held on Saturday with Sinn Féin, the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly having a rise in elections with most first preferences votes and seats next to their the Democratic Union Party (DUP).
Sinn Féin won the most with 27 seats in Stormont, Northern Ireland’s 90-seat legislature. The DUP came in second with 25 seats. The DUP has historically held the most seats in the governing body since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921.
According to Neal, on Election Day in the north, 56% of the people voted against Brexit. “I think what we are looking at here is part of the fallout where the DUP they had great difficulty explaining their opposition, it certainly harmed their electoral forecast.”
The concern for Northern Ireland is there could be a discrepancy if they disagree with Sinn Fein and this would violate the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which has been around for 25 years and was heavily influenced by America.
“It is difficult to overstate the achievement of a nationalist political play for the first time, commanding the largest number of seats in the Northern Ireland assembly,” said Richard Neal, “At the same time I think that the most significant issue in front of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and America are a guaranteed tour of the Good Friday Agreement.”
The Good Friday Agreement was initiated for a fair agreement between British and Irish governments, which allows for a prescribed series of outcomes. Neal said, “you could be British, you could be Irish, you could be Northern Irish that’s up to you, but everyone gave up something to get us to the Good Friday Agreement. Which is now a template for the world to witness.”
Neal explains that the election is a reaction to Brexit in some measures. The DUP were the only political party in the North to support Brexit. If the Northern Ireland Protocol has not been abandoned, the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland will decide to not take part in government after this week’s elections.
Neal discussed trade issues, “I think the trade issue up North is complicated by the fact that many of the unionists see it as a respect to their identity culturally, but it’s important to point out that the argument over the protocol was an excepted premise by Boris Johnson government. He accepted the protocol and negotiated it.”
Neal added, “now for Johnson to argue that the protocol has to go, that’s very different from their support for Brexit. And now the result of Brexit was just a protocol. So I’m hopeful based on the conversations I had with the Secretary of State, that all eyes will now be focused on getting the executive up and running, and accepting the outcome of the election. Shinn Fein has the most seats in the assembly. They now should have the first minister’s job.”
The first minister and deputy minister have the same amount of power, according to Neal. “Much of this is based on the symbolism of the achievement but we aren’t getting any closer to solving some of the differences they have had, but by in large the storm on government has worked.”
Neal noted how there is this idea now of having a Sinn Féin for a minister. “I don’t think that only speaks to political changes that are taking place in the Republic of Ireland and North of Ireland, but also the significance of the fact that a nationalist is likely to be confirmed as the mutual first minister of the Northern Ireland executive,” he said.
The European Union, according to Neal, will not “back down” on this matter as they are ready to advise on the protocol.
“What we’re seeing here is a dramatically reshaped argument, at one time was one of the longest political disputes in the history of the western world. Democratic values played out on Saturday, the elections took place, and now it’s time for all the people in the North to get on bringing the government up so it moves forward with the mundane issues of public life,” Neal said.
In a previous news release from Ways and Means Committee, Neal discussed how there should be peace and stability between both parties, no matter the outcome. He stated, “the Good Friday Agreement not only brought peace to the island of Ireland it also created the power-sharing system of government at Stormont and serves as a template for successful conflict resolution for the world. Now is not the time for hard lines that will diminish this great progress, and any form of triumphalism should be resisted. The preservation of peace and stability remain paramount regardless of the outcome of these elections. All parties must embrace the political process and the new vision for a shared island. The people of Northern Ireland are counting on their newly elected officials, and that means choosing shared governance over no governance at all.”
The Northern Ireland Assembly will have one week to meet and allow the newly elected officials to take their seats before choosing a Speaker and ministers.