If YouGov’s projections come anywhere near to being true and control of the House of Commons teeters on a knife’s edge, then suddenly Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs go from a curiosity to being right at the heart of parliamentary arithmetic. The DUP holds the largest batch of eight seats – precisely the same as the Lib Dems won in the entire United Kingdom in 2015. They’re likely to win a similar number this time around. So what happens if we end up with a hung Parliament? If invited to cooperate with the Tories, the DUP’s price will not be extortionate. But it won’t be insignificant either. In particular, they will not want investigations of police and military personnel actions during the Troubles – an important issue for Sinn Féin in stalled Stormont talks.
Then take Sinn Féin, currently with four MPs. Their vote share increased considerably in this spring’s Assembly election, to the point where they will expect to win back Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and have chances of picking up seats in South Down, Foyle – and (possibly) Belfast North. Yet if Sinn Féin does have a good night, it’ll actually be good news for Theresa May: the party does not take up its seats at Westminster, so each of the four to seven seats that Sinn Féin takes brings down the tally the PM needs to win.
There’s more good news for May, in that the SDLP – which normally takes the Labour whip at Westminster – is at risk in all three of their seats: in Belfast South from the DUP; and South Down and Foyle from Sinn Féin. So generally speaking, Northern Ireland looks to be in a position to push Theresa May across the finish line if she falls short come Friday morning.
But as with most things related to Northern Ireland, things are never that simple. The country is heading to the polls for the third time since May 2016. And whatever happens this week – and whoever ends up in No.10 – all eyes will soon switch to the country’s own political future. The Tory government has given the end of this month as a deadline for either restoring power sharing or imposing direct rule. If the DUP helps May cling on to the keys of Downing Street, their alliance could come at the price of making a power sharing deal in three weeks’ time less likely.