Securing its 27 Assembly seats means that Sinn Fein’s returns to Stormont today as the largest party, two ahead of the DUP, suggesting that the republican movement can nominate Mid Ulster MLA Michelle O’Neill as First Minister.
So the reality is sinking in for Unionism; it is still a minority ideology in Parliament Buildings - 53 Non Unionist and 37 Unionist (a majority of 16 for those designating as Non Unionist).
Even if we go by existing specific designations - Unionist, Nationalist and Other, the 90-strong chamber now looks like 17 Others (Alliance), with the Non-Unionist Front of Sinn Fein (27), the SDLP (8) and People Before Profit (1) on 36, with Unionism on 37 (DUP 25, UUP 9, TUV 1, and Independent Unionists 2).
Another bitter pill for Unionism to swallow in the aftermath of the state of Northern Ireland celebrating its centenary is the prospect of having a republican First Minister whose party doesn’t even use the term ‘Northern Ireland.’
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Provisional IRA’s ruling Army Council digests the Stormont results. Yes, the Army Council will be pleased Sinn Fein has now become ‘top dog’ in the Assembly chamber.
Gone are the days when - publicly - Sinn Fein was the apologist face for the IRA’s murder and mayhem campaign of terrorism. The strategy of ‘an Armalite in one hand and a ballot paper in the other’ to ‘lipstick in one hand and a ballot paper in the other.’
The only positive a Unionist can take from a Sinn Fein victory is the number of women it has got elected to Stormont. The bottom line is - will there actually be a working power-sharing Executive at Stormont by the end of this week?
Sinn Fein has no difficulty nominating a First Minister, but does the DUP - or any other Unionist party - have the courage to nominate for deputy First Minister? The reality is, DUP boss Sir Jeffrey Donaldson does not enjoy the clout from Downing Street to crush the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Therefore, he cannot afford to nominate for deputy First Minister unless he gets major concessions on the Protocol from Boris Johnson in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
The other reality is that Sinn Fein needs Stormont more than Unionism. Sinn Fein needs a working, power-sharing Executive to firmly convince voters in the Republic that in the next Dail General Election, Sinn Fein should become a senior partner in a coalition government in Leinster House.
Sinn Fein does not have a good record as a responsible government coalition partner. In the 1918 Westminster General Election, when Sinn Fein won 70 of Ireland’s 105 Commons seats when the island was entirely under British rule, the party - formed in 1905; ironically the same year as the Ulster Unionist Council - did not take its Commons seats and negotiate a 32-county democratic socialist republic.
Instead, Sinn Fein - under its banner of Ourselves Alone - formed its own parliament (Dail Eireann) and then sparked a bloody War of Independence with the British in 1919.
Indeed, when Sinn Fein did secure an Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1920, rather than use the new Free State as a springboard to negotiate an all-island political solution, republicans started a equally bloody civil war between pro and anti-Treaty factions which saw more IRA members executed by Free Staters than were killed by the British during the so-called ‘Tan War’.
Until the IRA and INLA hunger strikes of 1981, Sinn Fein was an open apologist for the IRA terror campaign and a rallying point to commemorate the failed 1916 Dublin Easter Rising.
After the last Dail General Election, bitter rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil formed an historic pact to keep Sinn Fein out of coalition government.
Ironically, Sinn Fein needs the Stormont Executive to work to combat the effects of the pandemic, get rid of the pothole plague across Northern Ireland roads, bring jobs, build the health service, combat the increasing costs of living, the poverty crisis and get rid of the ‘heat or eat’.
Solve these bread and butter issues and the Leinster House establishment may well feel that Sinn Fein has the maturity and responsibility to become an effective Dail government partner.
Indeed, the DUP has put its cards firmly on the table post election - its the Protocol, or the Stormont Executive, but not both.
Sinn Fein, in the meantime, will push to severe the established joint role of First and deputy First Ministers at Stormont. There will be no more ‘Chuckle Brothers’ routine as witnessed under the watch of the late Rev Ian Paisley and the late Martin McGuinness.
As exists in the Dail, the posts of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Tanaiste (deputy Prime Minister) are separate offices. To give more clout to Sinn Fein’s Dail thrust, it may push to scrap the joint status of Stormont’s First and deputy First Minister replacing it with two separate portfolios.
That could be the political trade-off if the designation ruling, set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but changed at the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 from Unionist and Nationalist to largest party, was restored to largest designation - Unionist, Nationalist and Other equally.
If Stormont cannot be restored and the Assembly is again mothballed as in 1972, with Direct Rule coming back, then the Northern Ireland Office could be staffed by Northern Ireland Westminster MPs rather than MPs from the mainland parties - a dilemma for Sinn Fein as it still operates its abstentionist policy towards taking Commons seats.
Even if Sinn Fein’s Stormont victory fires the starting gun on a campaign for a border poll on Irish Unity, who pays for unification should Unionists lose such a poll?
Will the new-look republic foot the bill for all those from Nationalist constituencies in Northern Ireland currently enjoying the lucrative UK benefits system and free NHS care? Will the European Union bankroll the new-look Republic as there will be no British Government millions to bail out any collapse in the Celtic Tiger economy as the UK did in the past?
More fundamentally, what is the point of Sinn Fein in any future united Ireland?
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.