Sinn Féin: who is Northern Ireland’s nationalist party leader Michelle O’Neill and will there be a border poll

Northern Ireland election results mean that Sinn Féin is the largest party with the most seats in the Stormont Assembly

Northern Ireland’s Assembly election results have named Sinn Féin as the biggest party for the first time, but they are still unable to appoint a First Minister.

Sinn Féin, who won a total of 27 seats at the latest election, are a nationalist party that believe in the unification of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive requires the two largest parties to both nominate a First and Deputy First Minister.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who came second in the election are refusing to go into parliament, citing the Northern Ireland Protocol as the cause.

Northern Ireland is currently in limbo, left without a government and with the new largest party, Sinn Fein, unable to take their place as First Minister.

Here’s everything you need to know about who Sinn Féin are, who their leader is and if there could be a border poll for a united Ireland.

Who are Sinn Féin?

Sinn Féin is an Irish republican political party that recently won the most seats in Northern Ireland’s assembly elections.

The name Sinn Féin means for ourselves, or we ourselves in Irish.

The party has had roots in Irish politics since 1905 - before Ireland was partitioned.

However, it grew in popularity in the 1970s, when it became the political wing of the IRA during the Troubles.

Sinn Féin is the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, with 27 assembly members in Northern Ireland’s parliament.

It also has seven MPs in the House of Commons, but they do not take their seats.

They also have a political presence in Ireland, with 36 TDs in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), making them the official opposition party.

Who is Michelle O’Neill?

Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, at the election count in Magherafelt. (Pic: Getty Images)Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, at the election count in Magherafelt. (Pic: Getty Images)
Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, at the election count in Magherafelt. (Pic: Getty Images)

Michelle O’Neill is the Vice-President of Sinn Féin and the party’s political leader in Northern Ireland.

From the village of Clonoe in County Tyrone, she became involved with politics as a teenager after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

She was first elected in 2005 as a councillor for Dungannon, later becoming the first female mayor.

In 2007, she was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time to represent Mid Ulster.

From 2020, she served as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, right up until the Assembly collapsed in February 2022.

What do the results of Northern Ireland’s election mean?

The results of the Northern Ireland election mean that Sinn Féin is the largest party in Northern Ireland with the most seats in the Stormont Assembly.

Sinn Féin are in the position to nominate the First Minister of Northern Ireland for the first time, however, with the DUP refusing to nominate a Deputy First Minister, the assembly cannot be established.

There have been concerns throughout the Unionist community that with Sinn Féin now holding a majority there may be a border poll for Irish unification.

Will there be a Sinn Féin First Minister?

Under the power sharing agreement for the Northern Ireland Assembly, there must be representatives from the largest Unionist and Nationalist parties.

The two largest parties must nominate a first and deputy minister who will work together in the Assembly.

Michelle O’Neil will be nominated for the role as First Minister by Sinn Féin, but so far the second largest party, the DUP, have said they will not nominate a Deputy First Minister.

The DUP state they will not go into power over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was brought in after Brexit and puts a trade border with Northern Ireland and the UK down the Irish Sea.

If the DUP do not nominate a deputy minister, then the Northern Ireland Assembly will not be able to establish.

Northern Ireland’s previous government collapsed in February 2022 after the then DUP First Minister resigned due to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced that the UK is planning to legally change parts of the protocol through new bills on 17 May.

This announcement was received well by the DUP, but they have still not confirmed when they will return to Stormont.

Will there be a border poll?

Sinn Fein’s goal is the unification of Ireland and the party is committed to holding a border poll, calling on the British and Irish governments to set a date for one in their manifesto.

On 6 May, Party Leader Mary Lou McDonald said that planning for a border referendum needs to begin.

McDonald said: “I believe that the referendum would be possible within a five-year timeframe, but much more importantly, I believe the preparation needs to start now”

However, under the rules for a referendum, outlined in the Good Friday Agreement, a border poll can only be called by the UK government’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland if it appears that the majority of voters want a united Ireland.

Even though Sinn Fein is now the largest party in Northern Ireland, the election has seen an increase of support for the Alliance Party, which has no position on a border poll.

Last month, a poll conducted by the Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/Irish News suggested support for a united Ireland stood at 30%, with 45.3% against.

Oliver Dowden, Conservative party chairman confirmed on Sky News that he would follow the rules for the border poll if the majority of voters wanted this.

Dowden said: “If there is a sustained majority nationalist opinion in favour of a united Ireland that would have to be put forward in a referendum.”