Belfast Telegraph

What does Theresa May's snap General Election mean for Northern Ireland in the midst of the Stormont crisis?

By Noel McAdam

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call for a snap General Election does not bode well for the Stormont talks to restore devolution.

Already there appears to be little appetite for accommodation as the third batch of talks since the March Assembly election gets underway next week.

Stormont election results 2017  - select a constituency - North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

So which of the parties - not just the DUP and Sinn Fein, but also the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance - will be more likely to compromise in the mouth of another election?

The already growing uncertainty over the prospects of the DUP and Sinn Fein agreeing a deal do not appear to have been a factor in Mrs May's calculations.

Instead Sinn Fein and the DUP in particular will attempt to cast the June 8 poll as a re-run of the Assembly election, which saw Arlene Foster retain her Assembly majority by just one seat against a resurgent nationalist vote.

In retrospect the Assembly campaign was widely viewed as a ‘wake-up’ call to unionists who will be urged now to rally round the biggest party to send out the message ‘Hands Off the Union’.

Sinn Fein at the same time has been seeking to build on its Assembly success and consolidate its turnout with locally-organised election registration meetings.

Mrs May suggested the election could achieve more stability and unity in the UK, particularly in the face of the challenges of Brexit, but it is likely to mean exactly the opposite in Northern Ireland.

The DUP also stand to lose their leverage in the current House of Commons, where the Conservatives slim working majority of 17 places the DUP in pole position to make deals if the Government needs support.

But spare a thought for the smaller parties. New Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann is facing a major challenge just over a week after taking up office. If he cannot secure an election pact the party is likely to lose Fermanagh South Tyrone back to Sinn Fein.

And the DUP may calculate their call for unionists to rally round could mean they are likely to seize back the South Antrim seat from the UUP's Danny Kinahan.

The SDLP did well in the Assembly election thanks to the vagaries of the proportional representation system but the ‘first past the post’ General Election could also see Colum Eastwood’s party squeezed with South Down and Foyle both under question.

Would that in turn make the party under Eastwood - Alasdair McDonnell was still in charge at the last General Election - more amenable to a pact with Sinn Fein ?

But back to the talks. Secretary of State James Brokenshire may calculate he can use the General Election to attempt to gel the negotiations or otherwise tell us by the time of his next deadline in early May that there will be an Assembly election on the same day as the General Election on June 8.

But it is confusing and potentially risky to have two elections under two entirely different systems on the same day.

Or could the DUP and/ or Sinn Fein simply refuse to take part in the next negotiation sessions to focus instead on the General Election campaign.

If the main reason for the sudden election call, which goes against all the insistence of Downing Street over recent months that there would not be an election, is Brexit, the campaign is also likely to damage any prospect of ‘special status’ for the North.   

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