Northern Ireland

Radical steps: Anxiety over Brexit has led the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Greens to form an alliance.

What’s at stake in Northern Ireland in this election? For Remainers, it’s a chance to turn the tables on the DUP, which has been enjoying its moment in the sun, propping up the Tories.

  • Is Northern Ireland taking part in the general election?

    Yes. Northern Ireland will elect 18 MPs in the general election.

    It is part of the United Kingdom — the UK’s full proper name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    The south of Ireland is an independent country called the Republic of Ireland, or just Ireland.

    Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 when six counties were split from the other 26 counties of Ireland, which became the Irish Free State and, later, the Republic of Ireland.

  • Are the British parties standing for election in Northern Ireland?

    The Conservative Party has candidates in just four constituencies, but none has any chance of winning.

    The Labour Party does not contest Northern Ireland elections because of its links with one of the local parties, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

    The Liberal Democrats, likewise, are linked to one of the other local parties, the Alliance Party.

  • Which are the main parties in Northern Ireland?

    Northern Ireland’s largest party is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is pro-Brexit and mostly supported the Conservative Government in the last Parliament. It won 10 seats in the last election.

    There was also one independent Unionist MP in the last Parliament, Lady Hermon.

    Sinn Féin had seven MPs, who refused to take their seats in the Westminster Parliament because they believe Northern Ireland should be part of a re-united Ireland.

    Neither the SDLP nor the Alliance Party won a seat in the last general election, but each hopes to win two seats this time. Most of the 18 MPs are likely to come from Northern Ireland’s two largest parties.

    None of Northern Ireland’s party leaders sit in the Westminster Parliament.

    The DUP leader is Arlene Foster, who was First Minister (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) until the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Her party’s leader in Westminster is Nigel Dodds, who is at risk of losing his seat in the general glection.

    Sinn Féin’s party leader is Mary Lou McDonald, a member of the Irish Parliament, the Dail. Her party’s leader in Northern Ireland is Michelle O’Neill, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    The Alliance Party leader is Naomi Dodds, a former MP, currently an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and a general election candidate in East Belfast.

    Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP. He is trying to defeat the sitting Sinn Féin MP in the Foyle constituency.

  • What do the parties stand for?

    The DUP is committed to Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It was founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley, who also founded the Free Presbyterian Church, and the DUP takes a strongly protestant Christian position on moral issues. It is opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage and Sunday shopping, while many of its members believe that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago.

    Sinn Féin is pro-Irish reunification and, while most of its supporters are Catholic, it takes a more liberal approach to abortion and gay marriage.

    The Alliance Party is the largest cross-community party.

    The SDLP emerged from the civil rights movement as the standard bearer of equality for Catholics.

  • What are the main issues in the General Election?

    Brexit is number one, with only the DUP of the larger parties wanting the UK to leave the EU. Northern Ireland strongly supported Remain in the referendum.

    Abortion is another key election issue, after the Westminster Parliament decided earlier this year to liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

    The other big row is about the lack of devolved government — it collapsed in January 2017 after a renewable heating scheme went massively over budget, and also because the DUP refused to legislate for recognition of the Irish language.

    The DUP and Sinn Féin blame each other for the collapse.

  • How has Brexit affected politics?

    Because of Brexit, the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have very unusually agreed an electoral pact.

    Sinn Fein is standing aside in two constituencies to back the SDLP in South Belfast and the Alliance Party in East Belfast.

    And in a third, they were going to stand aside for an independent Unionist, Lady Sylvia Hermon, in North Down, but she has since decided not to run again.

    The SDLP, meanwhile, is standing down in three seats (North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down) in favour of Sinn Fein.

    Sinn Fein calling for a vote for a Unionist was a very big political change and may signify further changes in Northern Ireland’s usually polarised and frozen political landscape.

    Recent polling suggests support for Remain has increased, even amongst Unionist voters.

    Two out of three voters recently said that they thought Brexit would make it more likely Northern Ireland would join the Republic within 10 years.

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy and Paul Gosling.

You Decide

  1. Will Ireland be united in the next 50 years?


  1. Northern Ireland is a divided society, still dealing with the consequence of armed conflict, called “The Troubles”, which lasted from 1968 to 1998. Most children are educated in different types of schools, based on their religion. How do you think children from different backgrounds could be brought together? Make a list of three actions that might help.

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