Sinn Fein Party Calls For United Ireland Debate After Historic Election Win

Irish Republican political party Sinn Fein called for a debate on a united Ireland on May 7th, following its victory in a Northern Ireland Assembly election. The party became the first Irish nationalist party to become the largest in the assembly, taking more seats than the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P.). Though the debate’s outcomes will not radically transform the region, Sinn Fein’s call for a debate represents symbolic victory and a unifying stance against British domination in Ireland.

“Today represents a very significant moment of change,” Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Sinn Feinn head, said. “It’s a defining moment in our politics and for our people.”

The Sinn Fein party was formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.), which fought against the British army when the Irish War of Independence broke out in 1919. As the conflict intensified, constables backed by the British Army began attacking civilians, and the I.R.A. focused on ambushing patrols, freeing prisoners, and establishing an independent Ireland.

In May 1921, Ireland was partitioned into the largely Catholic Republic of Ireland and the largely Protestant Northern Ireland, the latter of which remained part of the United Kingdom. Approximately 500 people died and over 10,000, mainly Catholic, were displaced. But despite the ceasefire declared that July and the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in December, various conflicts such as the Troubles continued to rampage across Northern Ireland. As violence stole lives and claims of discrimination against Catholics and Republicans rose, many felt alienated and voiceless.

The Sinn Fein (“We Ourselves”) party would provide a voice to these people. Established by Arthur Griffiths in support of Irish sovereignty and self-determination in 1905, there were campaigns to ban the party in both British and Irish media. Thus, Sinn Fein’s win represents a defining moment in Northern Ireland.

Thanks to the Brexit decision, which raised the possibility of increased checks at the land border between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a new rash of violence between Unionists and Republicans erupted in 2021. These checks would complicate border crossings, the New York Times writes, “impeding the free flow of people and goods and angering those who would like to see the island unified.”

With the partition once again on everyone’s minds, the call for a debate allows politicians to pose their arguments and gauge public opinion on the possibility of a re-unified Ireland. In recent polls, Al Jazeera reports, “a majority favored holding a referendum on unity within the next five years, with 47 percent currently in favor of remaining in the United Kingdom and 42 percent supporting a united Ireland.” With Sinn Fein’s victory, there may be more support for a united Ireland.

Having an open and honest debate about the partition provides a peaceful mode of communication and discussion between Republicans and the Unionists. Rather than intensifying sectarian violence, politicians will have the opportunity to discuss contentious topics and the Sinn Fein party will be able to adequately gauge public opinion. Emphasizing peaceful resolutions like this debate is crucial to preventing senseless violence and murder.

Sabiha Obaid