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Smaller parties could shake up the system

Published 13/05/2016

Despite the electorate in the Republic of Ireland allegedly voting the incumbent Fine Gael government out of office, subsequent post-election negotiations have put the party back into government.

In Northern Ireland, the DUP have 38 MLAs and Sinn Fein have 28, which means they secure the Office of First Minister and first pick of ministerial offices. Meanwhile, the UUP, SDLP and Alliance hold 16, 12 and eight seats respectively. However, theoretically, the latter parties could choose to upset the apple cart.

Let me pose two hypothetical scenarios. Firstly, if the UUP MLAs "joined" the SDLP for the term of this Assembly they would boost its numbers to 28 to equal Sinn Fein's tally. And, if they were able to include, say, Jim Allister, or Claire Sugden, they could supplant Sinn Fein as the largest "nationalist" party to secure the position of deputy First Minister and get second pick of ministerial office.

Secondly, were the UUP, SDLP and Alliance able to come together under the UUP banner then they would have a combined strength of 36 MLAs. If they were able to negotiate with independents to secure 39 MLAs then the new UUP grouping would be the largest designated "unionist" party and secure the position of First Minister along with first pick of ministerial positions.

In this scenario, the UUP would hold the First Minister's office as Northern Ireland approaches its centenary; the SDLP would get the opportunity to make Northern Ireland work; Alliance could negotiate to take the Justice Department again, but this time get to have real input and the independents, or smaller parties, would be able to effect real change, instead of sitting in the "naughty corner".

Enda Kenny snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. In the north, the question is whether Mike Nesbitt, Colum Eastwood and David Ford can emulate their counterpart in the south.

BERNARD J MULHOLLAND

Belfast

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