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Sinn Fein becomes largest party in Northern Ireland local elections

LONDON — Irish nationalist Sinn Fein made huge gains in local elections in Northern Ireland, repeating its success in last year’s assembly elections when it became the largest party for the first time.

With the count completed on Saturday night, Sinn Fein, which wants Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland, won 144 of 462 local government seats. Its main rival, the Democratic Unionist Party, won 122 seats, while the Centrist Alliance Party had 67.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said the results were “significant”.

She added that her party’s success was a message from voters that Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, which has been paralyzed for more than a year, must get back to work.

Belfast’s semi-autonomous government has been suspended since the DUP, which wants Northern Ireland to be part of the UK, pulled out over a year ago in protest at a post- Brexit between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Under power-sharing rules established by the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement, the main British Unionist and Irish Nationalist parties must govern together.

“This election was an opportunity to send a clear signal … to support positive leadership and a party that wants the Assembly up and running,” O’Neill said.

She said the DUP’s boycott of the assembly “cannot continue” and that the UK and Irish governments must work together and help resolve Northern Ireland’s political impasse.

In February, the United Kingdom and the European Union reached an agreement to overcome their thorny post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland. The so-called Windsor Framework aims to ease customs checks and other barriers for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK that were imposed after Brexit to maintain an open border between the north and its EU neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

The open border is a key pillar of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The UK and EU hailed their deal as a breakthrough in their often-fraught relationship. The deal also gives politicians in Northern Ireland a mechanism, known as the Stormont Brake, to challenge new EU trade rules that may apply – a key union demand.

But the DUP rejected the deal and continued to refuse to participate in the power-sharing government.

Sinn Fein won the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2022 in a historic victory. It was the first time they had defeated the DUP, which had dominated the legislature for two decades.

ABC News

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