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Those who can’t  see what is happening have their heads buried in the sand; sands that are shifting.

The counting in the European elections here again rejected the DUP Brexit position and unionism lost its second seat.

This was not a narrow green and orange battle; but, rather, a re-run or extension of that leave versus remain struggle.

Brexit has broken the British Parliament, the two big parties at Westminster and it has broken the voting mould here. It has given people more to think about in terms of their vote and how to use it.

When you stretch out the political canvas, so you see the cracks in the union. 

Here, all of the pre-poll talk was that Martina Anderson and Diane Dodds were safe. They were.

The conversation was about the third seat, and who could win it.

Before the first votes were cast, there were senior Ulster Unionists who had given up on Danny Kennedy; a view expressed quietly – not loudly. Their eyes were open. They could see the writing on the wall.

In the wider political frame, the focus was on Colum Eastwood and Naomi Long. 

Momentum was with Alliance; their recent strong performance in the council elections, and, now, weeks later, Long was their candidate.

The party leader would be “more transfer friendly” than Eastwood.

That assessment stood up in the counting of the votes. Long didn’t struggle over the line. She raced through it.

In Europe, the Alliance leader alongside Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson will represent a significant majority in terms of the remain position here.

Look at how Eastwood transferred to them and you see the tactics and the thinking and the strategy in this particular contest.

“The vote came from around the houses and from all sorts of directions,” Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry told this website. “People worked it out for themselves.”

Brexit has broken the voting certainties of this place and opened up other conversations and possibilities.

In all of this, can Stormont be restored? Much depends on the course the latest talks follow in the weeks ahead.

The next leaders’ roundtable meeting with Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney will be on Thursday – before the Prime Minister and Taoiseach make their assessment.

The talk is of some modest progress. No cracking of the hard issues, but enough in the talking to allow this negotiation to proceed beyond the end of this month.

At some point the talks will have to intensify as the prospects of a deal are tested. 

This means taking the negotiation out of its working groups or silos to see if there is the scope and the scaffolding on which to do some rebuilding. 

“The parties haven’t been challenged,” one negotiator told this website. That will come when decisions have to be made on the detail of those hard issues.

So, what are the challenges?

Just look at  the make-up of Belfast City Council after the recent local elections and you see the new politics and new way and new society that are being both shaped and demanded.

The challenge in the negotiation on the hill is to deliver on rights and the change that is being sought. Rights are not a five-nil concession to Sinn Fein. Arlene Foster needs to think outside that trench if there is to be any hope of any deal. 

The new-Ireland conversation is no longer dismissed. It is a future possibility – a conversation to be had – not ignored.

What shape would another Assembly election give to the politics on the hill: might it help lift it out of the slumber of the past two-plus years?

There is new thinking – a new way – in the voting of recent times. If you can’t see it, you’re not looking – blinded and lost by the old ways.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at

1 Comment

  1. Barry Fennell on

    There will be a time when even the elastic cannot be stretched anymore – people are tired of waiting. Hard talking, uncomfortable interactions and dealing with issues such as legacy cannot be kicked down the road anymore. New thinking is certainly required and that will be a different type of stretch – especially here.

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