Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party that wants Northern Ireland out of British rule to create a united Ireland, has won for the first time the largest number of seats in the Belfast legislature, (27 out of 90) and announced that on Monday will be going to Stormont seat of the region's assembly to form a government. Meantime the governments of UK, US and Ireland have called on all parties to agree on a new administration.
However much will depend on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly for two decades, which obtained 24 seats. Pro-British unionist parties, mainly supported by the region's Protestant population, have been preeminent in Northern Ireland for a century.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill in line to be the First Minister, said Northern Ireland was entering a new era, a defining moment for our politics and our people, adding I will provide leadership which is inclusive, which celebrates diversity, which guarantees rights and equality for those who have been excluded, discriminated against or ignored in the past, she added.
The largest group in the legislature has the right to provide the first minister in Belfast. O'Neill likely to take the position advocating a united Ireland would represent a radical change in the province's politics.
As the former political wing of the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA), Sinn Fein is committed to a referendum on reunification with the Republic of Ireland to the south.
A referendum that could see Northern Ireland become part of the neighboring Republic of Ireland and leave the UK is ultimately at the discretion of the British government and likely to be years away. The Good Friday peace accord does, however, stipulate that if it ever appears likely that a majority of those voting would support reunification, the UK should enable such a poll.
O'Neill had downplayed the party's calls for Irish unity during the election campaign. She said the economically left-leaning party was not fixated on a date for a sovereignty poll, instead being focused on helping people deal with a cost-of-living crisis.
But, over the weekend, O'Neil said a healthy conversation is already underway about Irish reunification. Let's have a healthy debate about what our future looks like, she added.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson conceded on Saturday that his rivals in Sinn Fein were set for election victory. Certainly it looks at the moment as if Sinn Fein will emerge as the largest party, he told broadcaster Sky News, while reiterating that the DUP would refuse to join a new government without changes to a post Brexit trading deal between UK and the EU.
Under the Good Friday agreement, the party in second place, DUP, would be able to choose the deputy first minister — a position that holds the same effective governmental power in Northern Ireland's unique power-sharing arrangement.
The new legislators when they meet will try to form an executive. If they do not succeed within six months, the administration will collapse, forcing a call of a new election, and continued uncertainty.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price has called on Northern Ireland's political leaders to take the necessary steps to re-establish a power-sharing executive. It is one of the core institutions created by the 1988 Good Friday Agreement which ended a political conflict in Northern Ireland.