We are approaching the end of 2018, a much calmer political year locally than 2017, so I thought it would be useful to take a look at some of the events that can pop up in 2019.
2019 is an election year
On May 2nd, we all head back to the polls to vote in the Local Government Elections. The last time we all voted for our councils was back in 2014, this was at a time when the Executive was mid way through its second term and fatigue with the DUP and Sinn Fein was starting to be shown by the electorate. Back then the Ulster Unionists did well, as did the TUV, with the SDLP and Alliance slightly losing ground.
What to look out for? With no Executive and the 2017 election results, I would expect the DUP and Sinn Fein make up the ground they lost in 2014. This will also be Mary Lou McDonald’s first electoral test in the North as Sinn Fein President and it will be interesting to see how the party does. Likewise, the DUP will also be looking to improve from the result they achieved at the last election and this will be the first test for Arlene Foster since her appearance at the RHI inquiry.
Will the decline of the UUP and SDLP continue? And can Alliance show some early signs of expansion outside of the greater Belfast area?
We will see the RHI Inquiry report its findings at some point next year (we don’t have an exact date yet but if you wish to see the various stages that they go through, you can do so here). The evidence given during 2018 was an incredibly interesting insight into how the previous government operated. Expect some of the findings to have a major influence on wider debates about what a future Executive will look like and operate.
We are set to leave the European Union on 29th March at 11pm (note the use of the word set). There will be a vote on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in mid January with the likely possibility that it will be voted down in the Commons. As Peter has very helpfully put together in his article, you can take a look at the various options that could be pursued by the government.
Theresa May is safe as the Conservative Leader from a challenge for another 11 months, but if there is a dead lock expect debates about an extension of Article 50, an early General Election and a second referendum to persist. Then that all leads into the debate about the confidence and supply agreement with the DUP.
The Secretary of State has confirmed that there will be talks to restore devolution in 2019. Although this comes with a health warning, with local elections in May, Brexit set for March and the RHI Inquiry set to report, it is unlikely that we will see any meaningful progress until the later part of the year. There are calls for an independent mediator to be brought in to chair the process, so there are still issues around trust and how they proceed.
2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Troubles. There will be reflections on the anniversary of the Crossroads Election, the fall of O’Neill and the outbreak of violence in August 1969. Then you also have the anniversary of the split within the IRA towards the end of the year.
With the 8th amendment repealed the services for women to access will become available in 2019. This debate will not be going away and will continue across Northern Ireland.
Potential link up between Fianna Fail and the SDLP? It will be interesting to see what comes of this process and if any formal link up happens.
Pro-Remain party cooperation-If Brexit does become a reality or is even delayed, you will likely see more in terms of cooperation between the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland.
Irish Local and European Elections-Irish voters are also heading to the polls in May 2019 and this will be a key test for Leo Varadkar in his first national election as Taoiseach and Mary Lou McDonald. Sinn Fein did incredibly well in 2014, so she will be looking to rebound from the disappointing presidential vote in October.
Referendum on Presidential Voting Rights- A referendum on extending voting rights for presidential elections will also be held next year. This will be a key vote for many Northern Nationalists watching political sentiment in the South.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs