If the past seven days have proven anything it’s that a week really is a long time in politics. All eyes have been on the DUP and its role in Westminster as it looks set to ink a deal with Theresa May’s Conservative government. What though of the institutions closer to home? Does the outcome of the general election make a deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP more or less likely?
Prior to last week’s vote Sinn Féin would have been delighted with taking seven Westminster seats and in the process helping to inflict serious damage on the SDLP. It would have been regarded as a continuation of the `momentum’ which saw them come within a 1,000 votes of the DUP back in March.
There was even some speculation that Sinn Féin had cooled considerably on re-entering the Assembly. The logic ran that after a decade of power-sharing with the DUP, the nationalist vote had declined, nationalists were apathetic and disengaged with the political system and there was a seeming disconnect between Sinn Féin's united Ireland objective and its participation in Stormont.
With its 23 seats in the Dail could Sinn Féin not use its newfound strength in Northern Ireland to negotiate with the British government directly and where would the DUP go without a functioning Assembly? Or so the logic ran.
However, last week’s election result has changed the political landscape considerably. The DUP has a new base in Westminster from where it will cut a favourable deal with the Conservatives and the rallying of unionism around the party saw it pull more than 50,000 votes ahead of Sinn Féin. Whatever success Sinn Féin had has been eclipsed by the DUP’s performance.
This may mean that for Sinn Féin restoring the Assembly may well now be more of a priority. Without a functioning executive and with the DUP exerting influence over central government in London, Sinn Féin needs a forum to deliver at least some of its objectives.
On Wednesday, Gerry Adams had this to say about Stormont: “We want into the institutions, because that is what the people voted for. But also because we think strategically that it is the way to a united Ireland.’’
This would appear to be a repositioning of the Assembly’s role in Sinn Féin's ultimate objective in a message which is aimed at Sinn Féin's base.
Clearly Sinn Féin can’t go in at any cost. At a minimum an Irish Language Act, in some form, will have to be achieved in order for the party to sell any power-sharing deal.
Sinn Féin may be keener to cut a deal now and also look to the next general election in the Republic (probably within the next 18-24 months) with the hope of forming a coalition government in Dublin. A pro-longed period of direct rule surely wouldn’t help boost its vote in the south.
For the DUP too it is unchartered waters. It may find itself being asked to vote in favour of controversial welfare reforms in Westminster and indeed the future of its main benefactor, Theresa May, is somewhat open to debate. For that party too, having a functioning executive would be no bad thing.
While the 29th June deadline may prove too short a window to put together a deal at Stormont, paradoxically the election result which gives the DUP unprecedented influence in the halls of Westminster, may in fact have made a power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland more likely than before.