Although the formation of a new government could take weeks or months, it is clear that the surge in support for Sinn Féin has changed the political landscape in Dublin.
[...]So what does Sinn Féin’s breakthrough mean for UK/Irish relations, the post-Brexit trade talks and the possibility of Irish unification?
First it is not clear what, if any, impact it will have on the chances of getting a trade deal between the UK and the EU by the deadline at the end of the year.
The Irish government’s desire to see a trade deal that keeps the UK closely aligned to Brussels on regulations and standards was well established long before Sinn Féin’s rise in the polls. The economic and political realities of that remain unchanged.
And while Sinn Féin joined unionists at the Stormont Assembly last month in opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal with the EU, the Northern Ireland protocol proposes a new regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea as opposed to tougher checks on the land border in Ireland — a better outcome for nationalists who were fiercely opposed to a harder frontier on the island.
An Irish coalition government that includes Sinn Féin may make it harder for Dublin to be flexible on the UK’s aim to diverge from the EU. But while Ireland was a central player in the first phase of the Brexit process, Dublin is now one voice among 27 EU members seeking to influence the future trading relationship with Britain.
[...] the majority of Irish voters cast their votes based on health and housing concerns, with only 1 per cent saying that Brexit was an issue for them.
The bigger question, then, might be over what an Irish coalition government featuring Sinn Féin may mean for the future nature of the relationship between the UK and Ireland.[...]
An Irish government with a more nationalist characteristic could change the dynamic — with clear implications for the peace process and the way the new border arrangements work once the UK/EU trade deal becomes clearer. [...]
Finally, what of the question of Irish unification? The nature of the Northern Ireland protocol, which gives the region special status inside the EU customs union and in the UK customs territory, potentially pushes Northern Ireland closer over time towards Dublin and the EU.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, unification can happen only if a majority of people in Northern Ireland and Ireland support it. A border poll, or referendum on Irish reunification, will be called only if the UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland believes that a majority exists.
A poll carried out in September by the pollster and former Tory party deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft suggested there was now a slim majority for unification (45 per cent versus 46 per cent, well within the margin of error).
Katy Hayward, from Queen’s University Belfast, wrote in a paper on Friday that Brexit had generally made Irish unity “more likely”.
“In 2016, 18 per cent of unionist respondents thought Brexit made a united Ireland more likely; by 2018 it was 28 per cent. The proportion of nationalists thinking this rose from 38 per cent in 2016 to 64 per cent in 2018,” she wrote in the analysis for The UK in a Changing Europe think-tank.
“But there is a big difference between expecting something and welcoming it,” she added.
This time last year, Sinn Féin leader Ms McDonald said there would be “democratic imperative” to hold a referendum on reunification in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The prospect of no deal may have been removed for now, but if the UK and EU fail to agree a deal by the end of the year, this question could come back into play. [...]
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Related article on Financial Times: Sinn Féin hunts for leftwing allies in bid to lead Irish government
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