All very exciting, Sandra and Sean. But in the cold light of day the election changed nothing except dreams and nightmares

Now that  the election is  over, all the  politicians have turned into commentators   tweeting all over the place, giving pious little lectures about what the other guy should do now. Not a word about what they themselves should do to reach agreement.  In the cold light of day the undoubted Sinn Fein victory makes neither them nor the DUP more amenable to compromise: rather the reverse. The mutual veto is rock solid. The centre ground was rescued from oblivion at the last minute but is irrelevant unless the Assembly resumes.

Sinn Fein will find it hard to resist making a call for a border poll. For the UK government  to refuse it sounds defensive for the first time .

 Later  Chris Donnelly below  can’t be refuted.

This is a watershed election, the first in which the demographic reality of a changing Northern Ireland has been borne out in electoral terms. For nationalists, the distance between the aspiration and fulfilment of a united Ireland has never appeared as close as it does today…Unionism is no longer a majority in the north of Ireland.

Never has the Union as we know it seemed as precarious.

And yet  the relentless narrowness of this focus, so reasonably expressed,  that is as arid and wearisome as old fashioned unionist “triumphalism” – just as my defensiveness now is wearisome. Alas, now isn’t the moment to set it aside.

The hardball political point is that nobody goes for a new constitutional settlement with under 60% support in advance. So do we just keep counting and call it  politics? The irony is that despite all the rhetoric of generations we haven’t begin to think as hard  about  what Irish unity  would mean as the Scots have about independence.

Nor after generations as the majority has local unionism settled down to a welcoming inclusive existence consistent with the contemporary British self-image of toleration buttressed by human rights.  Perhaps unionism will accommodate only under pressure.

The fact is that national identity  now is  a matter of personal preference. The justification of oppression has disappeared – forever.

Making the consumer choice, I prefer the pick’n mix that the Good Friday Agreement offers me. Do Sinn Fein intend to abandon it?

While campaigning for a border poll is  premature, it  would  use up time and energy and reduce the real issues of Brexit into a pawn in the same old game, whereas a pragmatic common approach is clearly called for.

Brexit presents a long term vision of Irish unity but an immediate threat to Republican ambitions for economic integration. Common interest provides more than enough grounds for making the best of it. Uniquely Sinn Fein is positioned to have influence on both the EU and British sides of the Brexit negotiating table. This is no time to hang back on the British side.

As far as the prospects for government are concerned, it is as if the election never happened.  Emerging weaker or stronger is no guide to their willingness to deal. Too pessimistic? Will the shock of the new work wonders? Let’s hope so.

After separate party huddles, the shape of negotiations is the next step. Will James Brokenshire as co-convenor prove acceptable to a euphoric Sinn Fein in the end or do we deadlock on that straight away? Who else is there except  the responsible  UK cabinet minister. But Gerry Adams sounded keen yesterday to cut the “English” out of it, even quoting the late Ian Paisley in support.

Everyone will presumably turn down the idea of yet another election. The centre parties who survived better than  feared almost  to the end, are large enough together to make an impact on  legislation on same sex marriage and some others on Sinn Fein’s wish list now that the DUP  blocking advantage in petitions of concern has been lifted.  But they are not numerous enough nor cohesive enough to influence the early formation of a new Executive. They will have to think hard about standing outside the Executive in advance and opting again for opposition. Alliance at least looks persuadable for government and may want to make a  pitch in talks. The SDLP  and the UUs eager to develop beyond survival might not want to be left out.  All party talks might be more complicated but  might also encourage flexibility over individual issues.

While  Sinn Fein’s refusal to a accept  Foster as first minister in advance of the Coghin report  is the big obstacle, does it need to prevent attempts to make progress on other fronts? And might  there  be even a grain of hope that she might even now stand down – temporarily – in the interests of Northern Ireland as a whole ( yes,yes I know ..)

Working out the D’Hondt eligibility for ministerial posts in a smaller Executive for a smaller Assembly is beyond me. I look forward to a sight of it.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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