According to the emerging narrative, the outcome of the recent council elections have given fresh impetus to a process set in train by the recent murder of Ms Lyra McKee at the hands of a republican terrorist.
Indeed, Mrs Arlene Foster has explicitly made the argument that the “local government elections reinforced the case… that the people want their Northern Ireland government back and functioning again”.
However, while frustrations about the absence of Stormont are palpably real, it would be dishonest to postulate any widespread demand for a return at any cost.
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First, we should remember that the recent elections were extraordinarily low-key; free from the controversy that a functioning executive usually affords. The absence of Stormont was a principal theme of the election, but not the issues which have caused its absence.
Consequently, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that significant sections of the Unionist population have altered their stance on the substantive issues, including gay marriage, an Irish language act, and abortion.
Furthermore, while there have been localised disappointments, the DUP’s vote has held up remarkably well for a party of government which has not sat for over two years.
Indeed, the party’s share of first preference votes has increased to 24.1% [up 1% on 2014]; a staggering achievement under the circumstances.
Perhaps the worst that can be said of the party’s performance is the need for a relook at its vote management strategy.
As such, the DUP’s continuing strong performance should be read as an endorsement of the party’s pre-existing policies and should inform the DUP’s negotiating positions accordingly.
Finally, the chipping away of Sinn Fein’s support to the likes of People Before Profit and Aontu suggest that not everyone within the republican electorate is pleased with Sinn Fein’s current strategy.
The DUP should not be too quick to make concessions, while their opposition may be beginning to crack.
In short, the results of the recent election have reinforced the DUP’s democratic mandate to maintain its current stance, and party policies, in the ongoing talks process.
Philip Lynn, Ballymena