The voters of Northern Ireland have spoken and a new Assembly is set to take its seats in Stormont. That the election campaign was completed by the parties in a manner that would be considered routine in a democracy is encouraging to all, regardless of individual party performance.
Many voters viewed the campaign with a degree of indifference; commentators described it as bordering on the dull and lackluster. In Northern Ireland, however, dull is not necessarily an entirely bad thing.
With the votes counted the new Assembly will look much the same as the outgoing one. All 108 seats have been filled and the final party seat totals are: the DUP 38, Sinn Féin 29, UUP 16, SDLP 14 and Alliance 8. The Traditional Unionist Voice and Green each secured a seat and there is one independent member of the new Assembly.
The Democratic Unionist Party remains the top party and has tightened its grip on the unionist vote at the expense, again, of the Ulster Unionist Party which lost two seats and at this stage is only a pale shadow of the party that ruled the North, badly and without pause, for most of the last century,
Sinn Féin retained its position as number two party and certain governing partner with the DUP whose leader, Peter Robinson, made something of a personal comeback after losing his Westminster seat in the last British general election.
The fact that parties as diametrically opposed, at least with regard to the long term constitutional future of Northern Ireland, could work together over the past few years was never less than an encouraging signal to voters who appear to be content with this arrangement.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
But of course the elephant in the room remains that constitutional future of the North, a matter which at some point will come into electoral play in the context of the North’s evolving demographics.
That elephant was largely ignored though Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliot did blow his trunk at a count when he referred to tricolor flags carried by Sinn Féin supporters as flags of a foreign nation, and the flag holders as “scum.”
Thankfully, this line of thinking was mostly absent during the campaign. It is more crucially the case that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who easily won re-election, will be mandated to run the North’s day to day affairs, most likely with the active participation of the other main parties entitled to ministerial seats under the d’Hondt system.
For the SDLP, the election brought something of a mixed outcome and a loss of two seats, but it would appear that the party has performed well enough to counter suggestions in recent years that it was destined entirely for the sidelines.
Overall, It seems the case that North voters enjoy the fact that they have more than a couple of viable parties to chose from, a situation that a growing number of U.S. voters would find envious.
Democracy and governance can be a routine affair, tedious and indeed dull. But given the history of Northern Ireland there is cause to celebrate the politically humdrum.
Given the parlous state of the economy, not just in the North, but on the island of Ireland, and in Britain too, the incoming power sharing Executive in Belfast will have its work cut out.
But those who will run the Executive at least know that they have the ability to work together for the common good, an ability that has been recognized and endorsed anew by the voters.
Meanwhile, with regard to another election, that which took place in Scotland, the clear victory of the Scottish Nationalist Party is a most significant event. Unionists have long looked to Scotland, as opposed to England, as a kindred heartland. The fact that the SNP in now in power will almost certainly lead to a referendum on the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom.
No less than unionists in the north, nationalists and republicans will be looking across the water as the Scottish people, as a single entity mind, chart their own future.