10 March 2007

Northern Ireland

The final counts have been completed, and we are left with a result whihc provided numerous firsts:

The results (DUP 36, SF 28, UUP 18, SDLP 16, Alliance 7, PUP 1, Green 1, Independent 1) will produce an Executive, if one is formed, with a Unionist majority, in contrast to the previous 50:50 split. Ian Paisley would be First Minister, and Martin McGuinness would be his Deputy. The DUP would take a further 4 ministerial seats, Sinn Fein would take a further 3, the UUP would take 2 and the SDLP would have just one minister. The full Executive would therefore have seven Unionists and five Nationalists.

Northern Ireland has also seen its first Green MLA elected, in Brian Wilson. At this early stage, we won't know if he can repeat Robin Harper's success: Harper was of course the first elected Green parliamentarian in the UK, and the only one in Scotland until 2003, when he was joined by six others. Can Wilson follow suit? Only time will tell: at this stage we don't even know if the Assembly will even exist in April.

But the really radical first comes in South Belfast, where the Alliance Party's Anna Lo takes a seat at the expense of the UUP's Esmond Birnie. Lo is believed to be the first ethnic Chinese Parliamentarian not just in Northern Ireland or the UK, but the whole of Europe. She's also the first MLA from an ethnic minority, so Northern Ireland has stolen a march on the Scottish Parliament by two months.

The big questions now: can an Executive be formed? Will the Assembly continue to exist past April? We await the answers with bated breath.

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