We know now that for the next 5 years, the Conservatives will be ruling the UK as a majority, but what does this mean for the future of Northern Ireland in the midst of all this? No doubt with the almost decisive victory of the SNP in Scotland, the questions of devolution and nationalism will once again rear their heads, despite the referendum eight months ago. Northern Ireland on the other hand, has arguably strengthened its relationship with the UK as a result of electing two extra Unionist candidates this year.

We will first look into the following results for Northern Ireland in 2015:

8 DUP – Democratic Unionist Party (+1 from 2010)
2 UUP – Ulster Unionist Party (+1 from 2010)
0 Alliance – (Lost their only MP from 2010)
3 SDLP – Social Democratic and Labour Party (No change)
4 Sinn Féin – (-1 from 2010)
1 Independent – (Lady Sylvia Hermon retains her seat from 2010)

The intensity of the night came from the Fermanagh and South Tyrone and East Belfast constituencies. The former was a crucial election because in 2010, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew had beaten joint Unionist candidate Rodney Connor by a mere four votes (21,000 to 21,004). This time around however, the UUP fought back and Sinn Féin lost out on their seat by a few hundred votes (23,608 to 23,078). It’s a very rare occasion to see constituencies won by such a small margin and Fermanagh was no exception to that rule.

The most heated battle of the election campaign however came from East Belfast, between Alliance candidate Naomi Long and DUP candidate Gavin Robinson. The DUP had longed to gain their seat back from Naomi Long, who defeated DUP leader, Peter Robinson for the seat in 2010 following personal accusations. In order to combat this, the DUP had a pact with the other leading Unionist Party the UUP in order to tactically vote Gavin into Parliament. This was received well by many within the Unionist community but it also received much criticism akin to using scaremongering tactics when keeping Northern Ireland part of the UK. As a result, the DUP gained 16.5 per cent extra in their share of the votes and defeated Naomi Long with two thousand votes.

There have been some interesting results for smaller parties too. The Greens outright doubled their votes in Northern Ireland, People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll came second in West Belfast and the Workers’ Party gained more votes too. In addition, this was the first election whereby the Conservatives ran candidates in Northern Ireland after running as UCUNF (Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force), a coalition of the UUP and Conservatives in the previous election.

Throughout this entire election campaign, the DUP were portrayed as the kingmakers of Parliament, predicting that a Conservative minority would require their aid in forming government and as such, most of the DUP’s commitments came off that backdrop. This came with a price however, they proclaimed that if they needed to form government with Labour or the Conservatives, they wanted an extra £2 billion injected into Northern Ireland’s bloc grant – a more difficult task perhaps under the Conservatives. Many within the media in Northern Ireland never predicted the outcome of a Conservative majority and this does hold some implications for how Northern Ireland is governed in the next few years.

For one, the Conservatives, unlike Labour, are very unlikely to give any more money to Northern Ireland under the Barnett Formula. They believe Northern Ireland has to sort its own problems out first, partly in ratifying the Stormont House Agreement and in being able to agree to welfare reform. In fact, under the Conservatives and their austerity measures, it is very likely that we will see cuts to Northern Ireland’s budget and to Scotland’s. What’s important between now and next year’s Stormont elections is that all eyes will be on Sinn Féin in ratifying the Stormont House Agreement.

Tactically however, it may be in Sinn Féin’s best interest to not ratify the agreement. Even though Stormont will be losing £2 million a week as a result of not ratifying the agreement, once the Conservatives force cuts through, they can merely use them as scapegoats and point the finger, though this of course has wider implications. In essence, a Conservative majority could spell more cuts for Northern Ireland with an emphasis on Northern Ireland ‘sorting its own house out’ before any more fiscal powers are devolved.

So who are the winners and losers in this election? Well the main answers to that would be the UUP and Alliance respectively. The UUP gained more share of the votes than ever before and also gained a very tightly contested seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.  What will be interesting to look out for is the Stormont Elections next year, regardless of whether or not more Unionist pacts between the UUP and DUP will take place to, ‘keep themmuns out’ as per Northern Irish lingo. On the other hand, Alliance have lost their only MP due to a Unionist pact and will now have to consider whether or not Naomi Long will run as a Stormont candidate in 2016 (which is very likely given her impressive record as an MP).

A massive shift is still needed for Northern Irish politics, where real issues such as the economy and health need to be discussed, but time will tell if the state of affairs will evolve beyond flags, parades and the past. The most pressing matter for N.I. politicians to attend to now is to come to an agreement over Stormont House. This proverbial sword of Damocles must be solved before the next Stormont election next year, else we will face even greater cuts than the ones we already have to deal with.

 

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05tb3ff/the-ni-leaders-debate  – Northern Ireland Leaders’ Debate
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05tty2j/the-ni-leaders-debate-reaction  – Reaction from Audience and TUV, Green Party Northern Ireland and UKIP Leaders.
http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/ – Analysis of Election Results throughout the night
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-northern-ireland-32071215 – On the DUP as Kingmakers + Desires from Government
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2015_(Northern_Ireland) – Vote / Constituency seating information