Batons and Bucks

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Sinn Fein, with a history as the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, a militant organization, is now poised to win the largest share of seats in Northern Ireland’s regional parliament when voters in the British territory go to the polls on May 5. As Reuters explained, the nationalist party that advocates for uniting Northern Ireland with the sovereign Irish Republic to the south is expected to receive around 26 percent of the vote.

If the party does take the lead, it will mark a turning point for the island, says the Washington Post, noting that victory would underscore how Northern Ireland has been transitioning from a pro-British majority to one more happy to see a united Ireland.

Highlighting that change is how support for Sinn Fein’s primary rival and the current majority party in parliament, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has cratered, the New Statesman wrote. They are expected to receive 20 percent of the vote. Around 8 percent of their supporters have fled to other unionist parties because the DUP has failed to solve a thorny tangle of problems.

In February, DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in protest against the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, an agreement between Britain and the European Union on the Northern Irish border after Brexit, the Guardian editorial board recalled. DUP leaders say that the protocol erects trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain that are plainly illegal under British law.

The protocol is arguably necessary because, under EU rules, all goods entering EU countries from non-EU countries must undergo checks, as the BBC noted. Since Northern Ireland would no longer be part of the EU once Brexit occurred, a hard border theoretically would need to go up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member. But under the separate 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and Ireland, the border between northern and southern Irish communities was supposed to be permeable. So, neither side is supposed to erect a hard border.

Internal politics are also putting pressure on the Good Friday Agreement. With the prospect of Sinn Fein appointing a new first minister, DUP leaders say they might not join Sinn Fein in the power-sharing executive established in the Good Friday Agreement, reported the Daily Mail.

Now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to scrap the protocol to satisfy his DUP allies and other conservatives, a move that will create a new crisis in relations with EU leaders, reported the Belfast Telegraph. A trade war with the EU could be possible, warned the Financial Times.

But a former Northern Irish official who helped negotiate border issues during Brexit talks said Johnson and his allies always knew how the protocol would isolate Northern Ireland behind an internal border within the United Kingdom, according to RTE, an Irish state-owned broadcaster. But they wanted to rush the process and get Brexit done, the officials said.

Some politicians pass batons. Others pass the buck.

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