Peter Robinson said that it would be a disaster if Sinn Fein topped the poll in Northern Ireland for the European Election. As the implications of the new order of politics in Northern Ireland unfold, another consequence of Robinson’s outburst has now become apparent.
In his post on Slugger, Michael Shilliday, chairman of the Young Ulster Unionists, highlighted the fact that under the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has been amended so that right to the appointment of First Minister belongs to the party with the largest number of MLAs. Previously, that right belonged to the party with the largest number of MLAs within a designation. The precise wording of the new section 16C(6) is as follows
“(6) If at any time the party which is the largest political party of the largest political designation is not the largest political party—
(b) any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(5) or 16B(5) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation”
Had the legislation not been amended then in two years time, the First Minister would still be a Unionist even if the TUV was successful in getting a sizeable proportion of unionists elected to the Assembly. In all likelihood, the next first Minister will now be from Sinn Fein.
Clearly, we now know what Peter Robinson meant by a “disaster.” I cannot say that I like the idea of Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister. At the same time, I would not mind seeing it happen so that political advantage can be gained from it in the longer run. From all that I have observed, I do not believe that McGuinness has what it takes to be a successful administrator in high political office.
It is important that the CUs do not use this situation to try and score political points against the DUP by continuously highlighting it. To do otherwise would send the wrong signal to the Northern Ireland electorate. It would impair their ability to project their progressive message and leave an impression that they are still wedded to the era of sectarian politics.
There will be plenty of others, including Jim Alllister and the media, who will be highlighting section 16C(6). It is also possible that the DUP will try their “topping the poll” tactic just one last time. Some arrogance from the CUs would not go amiss. If the message coming out of their camp is that St. Andrews does not matter because the CUs are set to become the largest party, this might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What the CUs must do is concentrate on promoting their own political agenda. If they can get that strategy right, they will give themselves every chance of taking large chunks out of the DUP vote in two years time. Indeed, if they only retake two thirds of the vote that they lost to the DUP since 2001, they will become the largest party at Stormont.
Filed under: Conservative Party, Jim Allister, Martin McGuiness, Northern Ireland politics, Peter Robinson, Power Sharing, Sinn Fein, St. Andrews agreement, Stormont, TUV, ulster unionist party, Unionism, UUP | Tagged: Conservative Party, Devolution, DUP, European Elections, Jim Allister, Martin McGuiness, Northern Ireland politics, Peter Robinson, Power Sharing, Sinn Fein, St. Andrews agreement, Stormont, TUV, ulster unionist party, Unionism, UUP | 1 Comment »