Acrimonious campaigning ahead of Thursday snap elections in Northern Ireland has increased antagonism between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists and exacerbated fears devolved power may revert to London for the first time in a decade. The power-sharing government collapsed in January after Sinn Fein nationalists withdrew support for Democratic Unionist Party First Minister Arlene Foster after she refused to step aside during an inquiry into a scandal around heating subsidies. Many see the rift as a symptom of a deeper split in the British province between nationalists, balking at the prospect of border posts going up with Ireland after Britain’s exit from the European Union, and Unionists who fear a new push for a united Ireland.
While no one predicts a return to the violence that killed 3,600 people in the three decades before a 1998 peace deal, some forecast a setback in community relations and government paralysis which could weaken the province’s voice in Brexit talks which will determine its political and economic future.
The election “may well be the most dangerous one for unionism since the creation of Northern Ireland,” Foster said in a column in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday, saying that in the event that Sinn Fein come first, they will push for a vote on Irish unification.