DUP and Sinn Féin enjoy big wins in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland could have a major impact in forming the next British government...

DUP and Sinn Féin enjoy big wins in Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill (centre), with newly elected Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone Barry McElduff MP (left) and newly elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew (right). Picture by: Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May has failed to win an overall majority in the British general election - and she might need help from Northern Ireland to stay on as Prime Minister.

The shock emergence of a 'hung parliament' in the UK has dominated headlines today, with Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party gaining more than 30 seats, at the expense of the Tories and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

For almost two months now, the focus has been on the Conservatives vs Labour - but the results show how important smaller parties are going to be in the coming weeks and indeed years.

Despite only having 18 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, the results from Northern Ireland are looking increasingly likely to significantly influence efforts to form a new government.

The ballot saw gains for both the Democratic Unionist Party (up two seats to 10) and Sinn Féin (now on seven seats, up three from 2015).

The final seat - North Down - was retained by independent Sylvia Hermon, while the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Alliance Party, and the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) failed to hold any of their seats.

The DUP's share could help close the gap for the Conservatives - suggesting that Arlene Foster's party could serve as 'kingmaker' as Theresa May scrambles to form a coalition and hold onto power.

Speaking about her party's results, Ms Foster observed: "I am upbeat. I think people have responded very well to the message that we brought them about a positive vision for the union, and voting for candidates who would stand up for Northern Ireland in Westminster."

Sinn Féin's performance

Sinn Féin, meanwhile, will continue their long-standing abstention policy and not take up their seats in London, but their strong showing will likely strengthen their resolve as talks to form a Northern Ireland Assembly recommence this month.

The party performed well in March's Assembly election, losing only one seat despite the number of MLAs being reduced from 108 to 90.

The deadline to reach a new power-sharing agreement was extended to June 29th after Mrs May called the snap general election in April.

The previous Assembly collapsed as a result of the 'cash for ash' scandal. Talks to form a new executive are said to have been constructive - but differences remain over issues such as the future of the Irish Language Act.

As the Belfast Telegraph points out: "The [general election] results throw up the intriguing prospect of a Conservative Secretary of State trying to strike a deal at Stormont while his (or her) party makes advances to the DUP at Westminster."

Speaking to Ivan Yates on the Pat Kenny Show this morning, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said: "In every single constituency we increased our vote.

"The people know exactly what they're doing when they go in to cast their vote. They also know that we respect the mandate that we're given."

On the subject of the Assembly, he acknowledged it is time to reach a deal and get the Executive up-and-running again.

He argued: "I think you always have to be hopeful - we wouldn't have got as far as we've got if we didn't go forward with hope in the future.

"There obviously are concerns - the reason why we don't have the basis for the institutions [...] is because thus far the DUP have refused to cooperate as they should have, and fulfill their obligation as they should have.

"They may be emboldened by yesterday's results - I hope not," he added.