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John Manley: There's a spring in the step of those who believe unification offers best hope

The weather was pretty awful but the weekend mood in nationalist areas across the north was buoyant. Having witnessed a slide in the green bloc's vote for more than a decade, suddenly there was fresh hope for political change.

While Sinn Féin led the resurgence, growing its popular vote by more than 29 per cent since last May, credit too must also go to the SDLP, which added more than 12,000 first preference votes.

The upshot of Thursday's landmark election is the end of Stormont's unionist majority, which too could be interpreted as the end of the unionist veto.

It's a phrase whose currency, like the aspiration for Irish unity, has been devalued in recent years as the nationalist-republican electorate failed to turn out in sufficient numbers to ever challenge the unionist veto.

But the outcome of Thursday's election has transformed the collective temperament and suddenly there's a spring in the step of those who believe unification offers Ireland best hope.

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It is worth remembering, however, that a 32-county republic will not be founded on simple mathematics – 50 per cent plus one does not a border remove – as even if the demographics are favourable, the political desire in both parts of the island for full unification is unlikely to be there.

It's important therefore that a new discourse begins that attempts to frame what a new Ireland might look like. And while such conversations will be uncomfortable for unionists especially, it's incumbent on all political shades to get involved.

Unionists should perhaps glance across the Irish Sea and note how little interest the British media paid to last week's election, as it's a good indication of how much most of the UK population really cares about Northern Ireland.

They would also do well to reflect on the damage Brexit will do to north's economy and its relations not only with its southern neighbour but with the rest of Europe too.

What is arguably most important, however, is that Sinn Féin, and to a lesser degree the SDLP, display none of the triumphalism and hubris that characterised Arlene Foster's year as DUP leader.

Her Stormont Castle counterpart Martin McGuinness was never left wanting in his efforts to build bridges but that approach needs to be broadened out so it permeates communities and not just the political class.

In the coming years nationalism needs to behave more like Martin McGuinness and less like Arlene Foster. Picture by Hugh Russell

In Mrs Foster's arrogance and intransigence we saw glimpses of the attitude that alienated northern nationalists for the first five decades of the statelet's existence.

With evidence that the tide may be turning and the unionist veto may no longer apply, the need to be conciliatory is greater than ever.


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