Irish unification remains a long way off, but the election may cause a political crisis within the governments of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even the European Union.
A Historic Vote
For the first time in Northern Ireland’s 101-year history, the nationalist Sinn Fein party won the largest number of seats in the regional assembly.
The party downplayed its nationalist aspirations during the election campaign and focused on the increased cost of living instead, but leaders now say a plan to seek unification with the Republic of Ireland is in the works.
Supporters filled the room with cheers when the results were announced.
Sinn Fein held on to 27 out of 90 seats, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports remaining in the United Kingdom, took 25.
The Centrist Alliance Party, which doesn’t align with nationalists or unionists, saw a surge in support in this election, claiming 17 seats.
“Today ushers in a new era, which I believe presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality, and on the basis of social justice,” said Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill just before the final vote tally. “Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work.”
“I don’t think people fully understand the consequences of Sinn Fein’s success,” commentator Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter. “We’re witnessing the impending and I think now inevitable collapse of the United Kingdom.”
With the largest plurality of seats, Sinn Fein can now nominate a first minister, but to do so, the DUP must also choose a deputy first minister.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement created a mandatory power-sharing system in which the posts of first minister and deputy first minister are split between the largest nationalist party and the largest unionist party. The purpose of the rule was to force both sides to cooperate.
But the DUP has signaled that it may refuse to nominate a deputy first minister, needed to form an executive, and if that doesn’t happen in the next six months then the administration could collapse and trigger new elections.
The DUP has said it won’t form a new government at least until the Northern Ireland Protocol is abandoned. The Protocol, established early last year, imposed post-Brexit customs and border checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the U.K.
In February this year, the DUP first minister resigned in protest over the Protocol, and the executive has remained dysfunctional since then.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a statement he will announce this week whether he will return to the government.
The United States, the Republic of Ireland, and the U.K.’s Secretary for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, have all urged the DUP to restore the power-sharing system.
Will Ireland Leave the U.K.?
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald told CNN that unification with the Republic of Ireland is a possibility.
“I think that within this decade we will witness a constitutional change on the island of Ireland and it is my absolute determination that that change is entirely democratic, entirely peaceful, and orderly,” she said.
She added that planning for a unity referendum could come within the next five years.
Sinn Fein, however, cannot unilaterally call a referendum on unification. Only Secretary Lewis can do that, as stipulated by the Good Friday Agreement.
In a statement Sunday, Lewis categorically ruled out that possibility.
The agreement lays out the conditions under which a referendum can occur, saying that the secretary must first decide that a majority of people might vote for it if it were held. But the definition of “majority” is ambiguous, with experts suggesting a combination of metrics including election results, opinion polls, qualitative research and more would be required.
Many also worry that a premature unity referendum could end up like Brexit, with an unprepared government struggling to design plans agreeable to all parties in a potential agreement.
When the Republic of Ireland held a referendum to legalize abortion in 2018, specific legislation had already been prepared so that voters knew exactly what they were voting on.
A History of Violence
In 1921, the British government granted Ireland independence to put an end to an anti-colonial war there, but the majority-protestant north opted out, preferring to remain part of the U.K.
In the 1960s, taking inspiration from the civil rights movement in the U.S., Irish nationalists began to protest anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland.
Through the 1990s, nationalist militants led by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) waged guerilla warfare against the government, killing hundreds in car bombings and other violent attacks.
The fighting mostly ceased with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which the Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to keep intact by making the border between post-Brexit Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland porous while still respecting EU trade rules.
If the U.K. abandons the Protocol, then the Brexit deal will be thrown into crisis, but if it doesn’t abandon the Protocol, then the DUP may hold Northern Ireland in limbo.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Guardian) (BBC)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”