Northern Ireland is divided politically, religiously and culturally between two competing Communities, Irish Nationalists and British Unionists. This Divide has existed in Northern Ireland from its creation in 1921 during the partition of Ireland to modern day and is the basis for almost every single debate or issue in the country. This Divide is also responsible for the armed conflict fought in Northern Ireland from the 1960s-1990s known as The Troubles, which was a conflict fought between three main groups: Irish Republicans (More hardcore and militant Irish Nationalists that see any form of British Rule in Ireland as Illegitimate) who fought for an Independent United Ireland and as a response to discrimination against Catholics, Ulster Loyalists (More hardcore and militant Unionists who are fiercely loyal to the British Crown) who fought to preserve Northern Ireland's status in the United Kingdom and British State Security forces such as the British Army, Police and other who fought to retain Northern Irelands position in the United Kingdom and to end armed paramilitary campaigns.
The Troubles began in the 1960s after growing discontent and sectarian violence between the minority Nationalist community and the majority Unionist Community. Nationalists were subject to constant discrimination in many areas of Northern Irish Society such as Gerrymandered Electoral boundaries to ensure Unionist political victories, A Highly sectarian police force that was almost entirely Protestant that persecuted the Irish Catholic minority and state level favouritism towards Protestants for Jobs, Benefits, Housing and others. This all came to ahead with a Civil Rights campaign known as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) which campaigned for Equality in Northern Ireland between Nationalist and Unionists and which suffered from a fierce crackdown by the Unionist government which led to increased clashes between both communities and the police. This outbreak of sectarian violence ultimately culminated in multiple armed paramilitary campaigns (which consisted of mass killings, ambushes, bombings, murders, abductions and more) being launched in Northern Ireland.
Some notable armed groups from this conflict include The Irish Republican Army (Split between three main groups, Provisional IRA, Continuity IRA and the Official IRA), the Irish National Liberation Army which fought against British rule in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commandoes which fought against Republican paramilitaries and to keep Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.
The Troubles ended in 1998 with a peace agreement known as the Good Friday Agreement which created a new power sharing based executive known as the Stormont Assembly and saw an end to armed campaigns by most paramilitary groups and a restructuring of Northern Ireland to create a more equal country between Nationalists and Unionists. This also led to the removal of most British Military forces from Northern Ireland though some paramilitaries continue to operate to this day largely in the form of drug gangs and criminal organisations.
Irish Nationalists: Predominantly Catholic, Identify as Irish and wish to see a United Ireland.
Irish Republicanism: Hardcore Irish Nationalists who support a unified Irish Republic and view any British rule in Ireland as illegitimate.
British Unionists: Predominantly Protestant, Identify as British and wish to remain in the United Kingdom
Ulster Loyalism: Hardcore Unionists primarily loyal to the British Monarchy rather than the State or UK government.
Other: Groups or Individuals which do not take a distinct stance on the Constitutional status of Northern Ireland, or do but identify with another Ideology first and foremost.
Irish Nationalism and Republicanism are predominantly left-wing ideologies, particularly in Northern Ireland. British Unionism and Ulster Loyalism are predominantly Right-Wing Ideologies.
*In Northern Ireland all Political Parties or Independents must identify themselves as one of the three following designations when they take their seats in the Assembly, Council or in West Minster: Nationalist, Unionist or Other.
Major Political Parties:
Sinn Fein: Largest Nationalist party and second largest party overall in Northern Ireland. An Irish Republican party formed in the 1970s that moved from the fringes of NI's political landscape to its mainstream in the early 2000's. Centre Left - Left-wing with ties and connections to the Irish Republican Army. Does not take its seats in Westminster due to Abstentionist Policy. Operates in Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Pro-EU. Leader is Michelle O'Neil (Northern) Mary Lou McDonald (Southern)
Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP): More Moderate and slightly more conservative Nationalist Party that is the second largest Nationalist Party and Third Largest Party overall in Northern Ireland. Heavily tied to the NICRA and formerly the largest Nationalist Party from its foundation in 1970 until the early 2000's. Centre-Left and rejects Militant Irish Republicanism and armed violence. Pro-EU. Takes seats in Westminster. Leader is Colum Eastwood.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP): Largest Unionist Party and largest party overall in Northern Ireland. A loyalist and very Conservative Party that was formed in 1971 and moved from the Fringes of Northern Irish politics to the mainstream in the early 2000's to supplant the UUP as the largest Unionist Party. Right-wing and has ties to Loyalist Paramilitaries such as the UDA. Hard Eurosceptic. Takes seats in Westminster. Leader is unknown.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP): More moderate Conservative Unionist Party that was formed in 1905 and governed Northern Ireland from 1921-1972. Second Largest Unionist Party since the early 2000's and Fourth Largest Party overall in Northern Ireland. Centre-Right. Originally Pro-EU, adopted pro-Brexit approach after Referendum. Takes seats in Westminster. Leader is Doug Beattie.
Alliance Party (APNI): Liberal and Non-sectarian Centrist Party formed in 1970. Traditionally the Fifth Largest party in Northern Ireland though has made gains in recent elections coming third in the 2019 GE. Formerly a moderate Unionist Party, Alliance tries to hold the middle ground between both Communities and moved towards a position of neutrality on the Union in the 1990s. Centre - Centre-Left. Pro-EU. Takes Seats in Westminster. Sister party of the Liberal Democrats. Leader is Naomi Long.
Smaller Political Parties:
Aontu: Socially conservative and Irish Republican party formed in 2019 after splitting from Sinn Fein over its Abortion stance. Operates in Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Soft Eurosceptic. Centre-right - Rightwing. Leader is Peader Toibin.
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV): Extremely Conservative Unionist party that was formed in 2007 after splitting from the DUP. Pegged to potentially break out in next NI Assembly election and become a mainstream party. Right-Wing. Hard Eurosceptic. Leader is Jim Allister.
Progressive Unionist Party (PUP): Smaller left-wing Unionist Part formed in 1979. Ties with the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commandos. Leader is Billy Hutchinson.
Conservatives NI: Northern Ireland Branch of the UK Conservative Party. Leader is Owen Paterson.
People Before Profit (PBP): Socialist/Trotskyist Party formed in 2005 and operates in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Supports Irish Reunification but does not designate as Nationalist in NI, preferring instead the label of "Socialist" and is classed as "Other". Far Left. Eurosceptic. Collective Leadership.
Green Party: Non Sectarian Green party formed in 1983, associated with the Irish Green Party. Neutral on the Union. Centre-Left. Pro-EU. Leader is Clare Bailey.
There are many smaller parties with no representation, they will not be listed here unless they actually make a breakthrough which basically none of them stand a chance at doing. There are also multiple Independent MLA's and many Independent Councillors.
How the Executive Works:
Northern Irelands Executive is a power sharing executive, meaning that Nationalists and Unionists must work together in order for the executive to function. This is to prevent one community from dominating the other politically. The offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister are the head offices of the executive and despite the name difference they have the same power and function. The First Minister position is held by a member of the Largest Party (Not necessarily from the largest Denomination and the Deputy First Minister position is held by a member of the Largest Party of the Largest Designation (i.e Nationalist). Other Ministerial Positions can be held my members of the parties that make up the Government. Currently NI's ministers come from Five Parties, the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP and Alliance.
The Current First Minister and Deputy First Minister are: Arlene Foster (DUP) and Michelle O'Neil (Sinn Fein). Arlene Foster will step down as FM in June and will be replaced by another member of the DUP.
If either community refuses to take part in the executive it collapses and a new election must be held.