Assembly election 'a brutal result for unionism'

By Enda McClafferty
Political correspondent, BBC News NI

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Senior DUP figures say leader Arlene Foster's position is safe, despite the party's poor showing in the election

Former first minister Arlene Foster predicted a brutal election campaign but she didn't expect such a brutal result for unionism.

For the first time in the history of Northern Ireland unionists no longer hold the majority at Stormont.

And it happened under the watch of a DUP leader who, 10 months ago, was electoral gold dust.

In the end, just 1,168 votes separated the DUP and Sinn Féin - a gap which is sure to spook unionists.

The DUP has lost its veto. Without the magic 30 seats the party can no longer play the petition of concern card.

But it may call on the support of some like-minded unionists when it feels the need to block legislation.

Much will depend on its relationship with the new leader of the Ulster Unionists.

The make up of the next Executive is also set to change.

The DUP will no longer have four ministers around table: They will drop to three - Sinn Féin will have two.

Finish the job?

But those figures will change if the SDLP and Ulster Unionists decide to remain in opposition: They are entitled to one seat each at the Executive table.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood fought the election to enter government, but only if the conditions after the negotiations are to his liking.

If he turns his back on government, then he will have to make room on the "official" opposition benches for the Alliance party.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Mike Nesbitt suggested Northern Ireland wasn't ready for post-sectarian politics

Having won 8.8% of the vote, it has now passed the threshold to gain "official" status.

But what direction will the leaderless Ulster Unionists now take, and who will make that call if the Executive returns?

As Mike Nesbitt discovered, big bold moves don't always pay dividends, especially if those standing on your shoulder quietly don't agree.

One unionist who did emerge unscathed is ready and willing to return to her post.

Former Justice Minister Clare Sugden says she wants "to finish the job she started".

But will those who sat with her around that table have the same drive to finish the job they started?

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