#AE17 – What Are The Options? Direct Rule…?

The most recent Northern Ireland Executive was made up of Sinn Féin and the DUP, with the addition of the blesséd peacemaker, Claire Sugden as Justice Minister.

And, mathematically, barring some absolutely generation-shattering political revolution, those two parties will return as the largest once again. On a linear basis, what are the likely outcomes from the Unionist and Nationalist parties, we’re hearing so much about the twin poles on offer, let’s be real.

Largest two parties from unionist and nationalist designations:

DUP and Sinn Féin
– DUP have made it abundantly clear that they won’t be enacting such previously (disputed) signed agreements as the St. Andrew’s Agreement. No Irish Language Act.
– Sinn Féin have made it abundantly clear that they won’t be returning “to the status quo” – which is widely regarded as meaning having Arlene Foster as First Minister. If we allow for an element of reason to be applied here, if Arlene Foster is shown by a public inquiry to be completely and utterly cleared of wrongdoing, corruption, cronyism, ineptitude or incompetence… Sinn Féin would have to step back from this brink. That, however, seems unlikely purely on a calendar basis… the results of that aren’t expected for some time. One DUP source tells me they don’t expect a report back on the inquiry until Autumn, and a Sinn Féin source tells me they aren’t expecting results until June at the earliest.
Sinn Féin have also made it clear they won’t be joining an Executive which won’t endorse those previously (disputed) signed agreements which give provision for, amongst other things, an Irish Language Act (even though they somehow managed to agree a Programme for Government with the DUP (and Claire Sugden) without any mention of an Irish Language Act.

Result: No Executive. No Government. Likely the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have to legislate for some form of Direct Rule.

– DUP have made it abundantly clear that they won’t be enacting such previously (disputed) signed agreements as the St. Andrew’s Agreement. No Irish Language Act.
– SDLP were among those who called (strongly) for Arlene Foster to step aside during the inquiry into RHI. It is fairly unthinkable that they would shore up an executive with Arlene Foster in the top office, at least without her being completely cleared of any and all wrongdoing. They are also calling for an Irish Language Act, but not with the same fervour as Sinn Féin.

Result: No Executive. No Government. Likely the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have to legislate for some form of Direct Rule.

UUP and Sinn Féin
– UUP have made it clear they are unlikely to agree to an Irish Language Act, and the broad church of UUP would be tough to steer into supporting one, not without shedding yet more members from the party. UUP walked out of the Executive in late 2015 due to the alleged continuing links between the IRA and Sinn Féin, with no movement on this issue since then, it would be unlikely they would share the top office with Sinn Féin.
– Sinn Féin, once again we return to the Irish Language Act. Sinn Féin won’t agree to an Executive without one, and it’s safe to say that the UUP aren’t for signing up to one at any cost.

Result: No Executive. No Government. Likely the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have to legislate for some form of Direct Rule.

– UUP have, in some quarters expressed a keenness to work with the SDLP, that broad church issue could rise again though, although I’ve no doubt that some within the party would comfortably and without any hesitation work with their nationalist colleagues, there are others who appear reluctant.
– SDLP have also expressed an openness to work with the UUP, perhaps not as vociferously as Mike Nesbitt has, however. These two do seem open to co-operation.

Result: Possible Executive. Possible Government.

However, for the UUP/SDLP scenario to come to pass, the UUP would need a DUP drop somewhere in the region of 50%, the SDLP would need a similar swing from Sinn Féin. The likelihood of both the DUP AND Sinn Féin shedding around 50% of EACH of their votes is so unlikely as to be hardly worthy of consideration. I doubt any SDLP or UUP supporters, members, candidates, or even leaders, believe that this is likely to be the outcome of AE17.


There are other factors to consider also. Opposition is optional.

Even if the SDLP and UUP are returned as the two largest parties of the Nationalist and Unionist designations, it is INCREDIBLY unlikely for the DUP and Sinn Féin to not qualify for the Executive under d’hondt. Which causes a whole new element of chaos.

Would Sinn Féin go into an Executive as an underling of the SDLP? Would they join without an Irish Language Act? Would their supporters permit them to step away, leaving them out of government in both the North and the South?

Would the DUP enter the Executive as an underling of the UUP? And what if the DUP nominate Arlene Foster as a Minister? The other parties wouldn’t be able to stop this happening, save for collapsed the Executive and going back to the polls again.

So, what hope for Northern Ireland?

As I see it, this has the potential to be an election of change, but realistic change. An upturn in votes against the usual parties. But the reduction to 5 seats per constituency could mean that votes don’t translate into seats. Whilst Alliance and Greens are polling well, it is likely to be one of the above outcomes is the most likely.

So… Direct Rule.

Given how the DUP had campaigned to stop unelected European bureaucrats from being in charge of our laws.
And now, unelected bureaucrats within the NIO and the civil servants within our own government departments could well be in charge of our legislation and laws.

It would be funny, how the world turns, if it wasn’t so dismal.



  1. What about Alliance, the Green Party, SDLP and UUP standing together on a platform that has only one issue, namely the reform of Stormont. If they united to promise this as a single issue for this election and promised another election as soon as this was completed (say in two years?) they might get enough seats to go straight into government.

    • An interesting idea, Martyn.

      They would have to combine as a single party, however. With a constitution, party officers etc. And designate… which? Important when it comes to d’hondt, unfortunately.

      A fun exercise in fantasy politics though, “wouldn’t it be nice.”

  2. Direct Rule looks a very likely outcome; whether it will be short or long term is more uncertain.

    And yet Direct Rule can be thought of in another way; that the elected representatives in Stormont are incapable of taking on the responsibilities of governance, even if these are quite circumscribed. Rather than make any real attempt to deal with the situation that presents to them, they simply roll over safe in the knowledge that a more competent authority will take over their duties. And that speaks very poorly for their abilities and vision.

    • I agree completely, Korhomme.

      Pragmatically, there are plenty of parties and politicians who are willing to work together, collaboratively, to make this place function… unfortunately it seems most likely that the system itself and the party’s positions will combine to make that impossible.


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