Northern Irish nationalists eye historic gain as Brexit sends DUP reeling

BELFAST (Reuters) – In a part of Belfast where huge “peace walls” still keep some Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant unionists apart, Thursday’s UK general election could have far-reaching consequences in the decades-long battle for a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast John Finucane canvasses with party leader Mary Lou McDonald in Belfast, Northern Ireland December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Lorraine O’Sullivan

John Finucane, son of one of the most high-profile victims of British-ruled Northern Ireland’s bloody “Troubles”, is seeking to become the first nationalist elected by the historically pro-British constituency of North Belfast.

If he wins, 20 years after a peace deal mostly ended three decades of sectarian violence, it could help nationalist parties win more seats in the British parliament than their unionist rivals for the first time since the 1921 partition of Ireland.

Such a breakthrough would amplify calls for a vote on splitting from the rest of the United Kingdom, just as Brexit raises doubts whether England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can hold together after they leave the European Union.

“This election is different, it transcends party politics. Brexit is the key issue, it has changed everything,” said Finucane, 39 — the same age his father Pat, a fellow lawyer, was when shot dead in front of his family in 1989.

Finucane says Britain’s decision to leave the EU, which 56% of Northern Irish voters opposed in the 2016 referendum, has brought new supporters to his Sinn Fein party, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Ireland remains an EU member and the island’s now-invisible divide will become Britain’s only land frontier with the bloc.

Aided by a Brexit-forged pact between Sinn Fein and the smaller pro-Irish SDLP,

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