Anna Mercer: With power comes responsibility for new MPs

North’s 18 MPs should turn attention to convincing UK Government to help address long list of challenges facing community

The UUP's Robin Swann celebrates his election in South Antrim with supporters. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire (Niall Carson/Niall Carson/PA Wire)

While the election results across the UK delivered huge change in the balance of power, both at Westminster as well as within devolved regions, nationalism in Northern Ireland came out the same way it went in.

For Sinn Féin it was a quiet campaign after the initial flurry around the announcement of Pat Cullen’s candidacy in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, with the heads-down, keep-smiling approach a little bit bruised following disappointing results in the south. But an increase in its vote share and significant gains in places like East Derry give confidence that its surge continues in the north.

The strategy is working: careful, managed messaging delivered by a competent if not small team of Murphy, Finucane, Hargey and occasionally O’Neill, supported by impressive party discipline, means the modern Sinn Féin has an appeal far beyond its base.

However, as the largest Westminster party, this power comes with responsibility to reset relations with a new Labour government. The green shoots of a more strategic approach to funding public services need to be built on, moving away from transactional wish lists that don’t address chronic underfunding of public services.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the election of Pat Cullen in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire (Niall Carson/Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Abstentionism is an accepted form of representation to voters, but with Labour likely to be focussed on ensuring its new Scottish MPs are given special treatment after the implosion of the SNP, not to mention the neglected north of England, there are many things standing in the way of access to Sir Keir, and perhaps more importantly, the Treasury.

The relationship between the SDLP and Labour will be one to watch. With Eastwood and Hanna returned comfortably, standing still on decent margins will be considered a success in SDLP quarters, whilst there will be disappointment at the failure to recoup South Down votes that moved en masse to Sinn Féin in the 2022 assembly election.

The result puts to bed the wipe-out predictions that have accompanied recent elections, but it’s a long way back to where the party once was. However, with the switch to opposition in the assembly, and a bit more spring in its step, there does look to be a potential path back emerging from what have been a rough few years for the SDLP.

When the dust settles and the caffeine buzz subsides, perhaps the unity argument would be better made for an approach to be shared by our 18 MPs

Contrasting a relatively settled nationalism is a more fractured unionism. While the usual calls for unionist unity, as short hand for DUP control, will already be filling the echo chamber, the UUP and TUV, along with Alex Easton, will be pretty happy with their results.

A different sort of unity is being talked up by Sinn Féin, which – with a hat-trick of dominance across councils, the assembly and now Westminster – isn’t about to take its foot off the pedal.

However, when the dust settles and the caffeine buzz subsides, perhaps the unity argument would be better made for an approach to be shared by our 18 MPs, and indeed the executive, in how they convince the UK Government to help address a long list of challenges facing people across the community in Northern Ireland.