Now that the members of the future Northern Ireland Assembly have been elected, talks involving the political parties have begun to take place.
With counting over in the election, Ian Paisley's DUP has overtaken the Ulster Unionists as the biggest party and Sinn Fein has made election gains over its main nationalist rival, the SDLP.
However, the DUP has said it will not negotiate with Sinn Fein.
The assembly was suspended more than a year ago and the parties went into the election with the political process in a state of deadlock.
Where does the Northern Ireland political process go from here? Do you believe the make-up of the new assembly will make a difference?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
I am not happy with the election results but this does put the DUP and Sinn Fein in the spotlight. Will they get the same votes at the next election if the process starts moving backwards? These parties have implied that they have all the right answers and are capable of bringing NI forward.
B Duffin, N Ireland
It's definitely time to cut the cord. These politicians are not interested in peace they are just interested in power. Hand the whole thing over to the EU/UN, whoever has the guts. The British government has tried, again, and failed, again. Let's get out and let those who continue to peddle their own brand of mindless bigotry get on with it. The only people who can stop this situation are those who live there.
It will certainly delay any progress. I do personally feel that Sinn Fein are really making an effort and so too were the UUP. The DUP as a matter of principal will not or are reluctant to share power with Catholics. The inequality they speak of is the reason that nationalists started their violent campaign 30 years ago.
The Good Friday "Agreement" was a meaningless sham, and everybody knows it! The DUP are the only party who have the guts to stand up to Sinn Fein and bring back the rule of Law and Order to this sad, strife-torn province. This electoral vote demonstrates that people are at last coming to their senses!
Alan Hall, UK
There is nothing to negotiate. The Good Friday Agreement has the support of all but one political party, and been endorsed by large majority in a referendum.
Gilbert Houalla, UK - London
The assembly was rushed through and in my opinion needs be suspended with immediate effect. It is not the fault of the Northern Irish people that their politicians behave in an irresponsible manner. However a direct rule from London seems the only way forward for the present time. This until the politicians show some maturity, a conviction towards working together for promoting a better economic future for the people and a peace that is fair for all. The monotonous rhetoric that has been espoused since the last 'election' suggests that this day is still many years off.
Kev C, Scotland
I can't see the DUP and SF sitting together and form a government - but this is nothing new in the endless story of NI. It's obvious by now that neither the UK nor the Republic really want to take care of NI. Time to form an own state and resume some responsibility instead of endless game playing, lies and waiting for the UK and Ireland to get the fighting little kids back on track.
When Trimble's party had about 25 seats it was ok for him to decide what to do on behalf of the whole of the Unionist community. But when Paisley's party has the same number, somehow he's got to change his policies to take account of the defeated side. Similarly on the Nationalist side it seems that it's ok for one party to win but not another.
Looks to me as if the whole Good Friday Agreement assumed that only the "good guys" would ever win, now the voters of Northern Ireland have come up with the "wrong answer" their political parties have got to be told how to behave by outsiders who know nothing about the local situation. I think it's time that London and Dublin realised that they only make matters worse each and every time they get involved. The local parties must be left to figure out how to run a civilised community without all this interference. They all supposedly want peace, the fighting has stopped, why can't they be left to decide how to work together?
John R Smith, UK
Can someone please point out to Ian Paisley that 'Democracy' means 'rule of the people', that is all the people and not majority rule for one group over another. Also given his past (at least) involvement with groups of dubious commitment to democracy it seems incredible that he can refuse to even try to create a truly democratic institution and a brighter future for ALL.
It was a big mistake to push ahead with the elections at this time, there was no need to. It was obvious that this was a potential outcome and that once the DUP were 'in charge' the peace process would be dead in the water. I see no way out of this mess unless the DUP are prepared to change their spots.
So, it seems that the moderate voice in Northern Ireland has been shouted down by the radicals on both sides of the political fence. For Ian Paisley to state that he will not sit in an assembly together with Sinn Fein is ridiculous. Whether one agrees with Sinn Fein or not, they were elected. It is once again time for Britain to put her foot down and tell the northern Irish to back off with their petty and parochial view points.
Sean Gilmartin, Germany
Northern Ireland, like most countries - but unlike the UK - has a written constitution, the Good Friday Agreement. Constitutions like this one are written by consensus and procedures for amendment generally require more than a mere majority. How can the DUP expect that winning 30 seats out of 108 grants them extra constitutional authority to rewrite Northern Ireland's constitution, rather than live within it?
Steve McCluskey, USA
Voters in NI have cut through all the froth generated by over optimistic politicians and polarised the irreconcilable differences that have been glossed over. It was always going to boil down to Sinn Fein and the DUP either thrashing out some compromise or condemning Ulster to perpetual violence. Now they will have to get on with it. The notion that politicians can set out an agenda between themselves and persuade the electorate to accept it later has proved, once again to be futile....EU please note
Once again democracy throws up strange results. A party of protest led by a man whose only words in the last forty years has been, "No Surrender" wins an election. But strange as it may seem the DUP does not want power, for it is the party of protest. Power leads to being held responsible for its actions and one can be sure that the Leader of the DUP will never accept the fact that he is partially responsible for the present state of politics in Northern Ireland with his destructive comments.
J Suddard, England
The British government are reaping what they have sown. They have consistently failed to take on board the concerns of the Unionist community and have driven them away from a moderate like David Trimble into the arms of the DUP whom they hope will represent their concerns. It was obvious that this situation would arise, the last straw being the lack of transparency over the recent "decommissioning".
Grant Cullen, United Kingdom
I find it incredible that people are blaming Sinn Fein or the 2 governments for the implosion of the UUP. I find it even more incredible that Donaldson gets away with his attitude. Surely the biggest cause of the DUP success was simply the evident division of the UUP to which Donaldson and his cronies are the principal architects. Sinn Fein overtaking SDLP was on the cards. Paisley eclipsing UUP was the surprise - but then Donaldson made it less surprising. A united UUP going into the elections and we'd be moving on now - instead we're backtracking - unless of course a real leader emerges from the DUP - but don't hold your breath - too many bigots spoil the broth.
Seamus Herron, France
I cannot believe that the architects of NI Peace (SDLP & UUP) have been cast aside by the NI electorate, and the "lies" of both the DUP and SF winning on the day. The DUP has nothing to offer the future generations of NI and to believe Adams has "delivered peace" is laughable. Polarisation has returned and the honeymoon is over.
It is interesting to see this increasing spin on the election results that 65% of the electorate were 'in favour of the peace process'. On this basis, 60% of the electorate in the 2001 General Election were against the Labour government. I hope the current government take this into account, or is democracy different in Westminster?
Duncan Jeffery, UK
The agreement is not dead it is the only show in town. Do not forget it is a peace process which is unfortunately a slow process but it is working. David Irwin of the PUP reminded everybody that this election was being with no one being dead in a ditch. Dialogue will be difficult but the DUP and Sinn Fein already work together on local councils! This is not a time to be pessimistic
Dennis Dobbin, England
It's time the Government give Northern Ireland proper democratic devolution like Scotland and Wales. To think that Sinn Fein and the DUP are going to form a government is fantasy politics.
Edward, Northern Ireland
As long as the "mother country" continues to mediate disputes and tantrums among her "children", the situation in Northern Ireland will continue. Blair's government must reinstitute the Assembly. Those who refuse to take their seats will lose their opportunity to effect change through the only form of self-government currently available.
Why do the British have such a death-wish over Northern Ireland? Whenever there's progress there's a deafening silence from "public opinion" vox pop sources. Yet when problems occur up pop the doom-mongers with all the "I told you so - plague on both their houses - will the Irish ever learn" comments.
The process is definitely not dead. It is time for the DUP to finally listen to the opinions of the majority of the north's population and accept that people just want peace and nothing more.
Éamonn Mac Cotir
How can people accuse the DUP of being "undemocratic?" and urge them to make a move? It is Sinn Fein and the IRA who are holding up the peace process, by refusing to fully decommission as required by the Agreement. Its is Sinn Fein who retain an illegal army- now THAT is "undemocratic"
Stuart Henderson, Airdrie, Scotland
I wish the world would stop living in denial. SF want an all-Ireland. Unionists wish to REMAIN part of the United Kingdom, where is the compromise? Those who signed the Agreement have proved by their actions it was a non-starter. If you want devolution then the DUP and UUP should form a government with a Nationalist opposition. Surely this would be democracy.
David Fairfield, Northern Ireland
Perhaps it time for Northern Ireland to become a real democracy. The Assembly should get back to work. Anyone who doesn't want to sit down with the other elected members must be left to get on with their own agenda. The people of Northern Ireland deserve to have the assembly working to give them the benefits of a local legislative body. Those who stay away can explain their absence to their electorate. I wonder if they will draw their salary?
Joseph McGrath, Scotland
Having been born and brought up in NI, I am saddened once again to see Unionism take a backward step. There is no future in a refusal to talk to SF when it is abundantly clear that they represent the majority of Catholics in NI. This is true democracy at work, something which the DUP should not and must not be allowed to ignore! That said, it has always been clear that the DUP has no wish to see Nationalists gain a real say in the future of NI.
The DUP becoming the biggest party in the Assembly should not obscure the fact that more than 65% of the votes were pro-Peace Process. This is a crisis of Unionism - not a crisis of the Peace Process
Alan O'Callaghan, UK
Seems that if Assembly members refuse to sit in the assembly and do their job, then they should not receive their salaries. I'm happy to contribute taxes for ministers and assembly members who do their work, but when they use the assembly for their own destructive agenda and refuse to carry out their duties they should have their pay stopped, in the same way that any other employee who refuses to work risks having pay stopped or other disciplinary measures invoked.
Why is it that the DUP have been labelled as undemocratic? If there was a peace in Northern Ireland then why do we need the threat of guns and a "return to the troubles" for the unionist community to have an agreement imposed on them? Its about time that the unionist voice was listened to rather than the British Government pandering to the IRA/Sinn Fein in case they start their little terrorist campaign again.
Stephen, Northern Ireland
If the DUP continue to lock themselves into irrelevance, does not that mean the way is clear for Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance Party in majority coalition to lead NI into a democratic future?
Andrew W. Heatlie, Scotland
Now is the time for the DUP to start talking to others in order to make peace in Northern Ireland a genuine possibility. Differences must now be put aside for the future's sake. Let's hope this doesn't become a sad day in Northern Ireland's history.
A wonderful day for Unionism and the Union! The pro-Union majority has realised that constant pandering to violent separatism is no longer a prospect that they wish to countenance for this part of our United Kingdom.
Andrew McCann, Halifax, UK
So much for the SDLP's "Stop the DUP" campaign! It backfired drastically now maybe thy will concentrate in getting themselves out of the mess they're in. Also had to laugh at their "2 good reasons to vote for the SDLP" posters featuring the 2 Paisleys-they topped the poll!!
Andrew Maxwell, N Ireland
If the DUP really want peace then they will have to talk to Sinn Fein whether they like it or not. They cannot stick their head in the sand anymore and pretend that it is 1922 again, times have moved on and being a " democratic party" then they must respect democracy.
Ciaran Campbell, France
So disappointing that the architects of the peace process, the SDLP, have not done as well as they deserve. Lets hope the electorate will come to their senses when they realise that Sinn Fein are full of empty promises and shallow words.
You have to hand it to the voting public in NI, we certainly know how to make things interesting!
John, Northern Ireland
As an emigrant from Northern Ireland and a Unionist by tradition, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see support swinging to a party who has absolutely nothing positive to offer, and who have not changed their rhetoric in the last 30 years (the DUP). The Unionist community seems to be stuck in an endless cycle of destroying anything remotely positive, and will yet again be blamed for the collapse of devolved Government and the return of violence. No wonder Blair has given up on "us".
Ray Mulligan, England
If there is any "Democratic" in "Democratic Unionist Party", they now have no choice but to talk to the most popular nationalist party.
The future is bright for Northern Ireland with the strong voice of the DUP. Changes must be made for progress to continue. Let this be the first step.
Richard Burns, Northern Ireland
It seems a shame that the NI Women's Coalition and the Alliance suffered. Had the Assembly not been suspended perhaps the normalisation of politics could've continued and perhaps the DUP and UUP could have squabbled over hospital cutbacks, the 11-plus and other issues that will still have resonance with the electorate. The suspension of the Assembly allowed the contest degenerate into the usual tribal headcount.
Joe Gleeson, Republic of Ireland
The most interesting fact that came out of the election is that 2 out of every three unionists voted for an anti-agreement unionist because the Belfast Agreement has to be changed.
The DUP now say they represent the "Northern Ireland Unionist Community". By this, I assume they mean that they have more votes than the UUP. The total combined 1st Preference votes for DUP and UUP came to just over 48%. Does this mean that the DUP recognise that Unionists are in a minority in Northern Ireland? So much for their version of democracy.
Dr. J A O'Neill, N. Ireland
The DUP claim to be Democratic yet refuse to talk to and in the past have asked for the removal of Democratically elected party. How can a party claim to be Democratic yet refuse the people of the Six Counties.
Seamus, Belfast, Ireland
Now let's see the DUP, SF and UUP get their acts together and create an opportunity for lasting co-operation, trust and peace in Northern Ireland. Enough bickering and petty party squabbling, the people HAVE spoken, listen to what they have said and WORK TOGETHER!
Tony Gillings, Ireland
How do you create an Assembly with two representatives at First Minister and Deputy First Minister, when one refuses to speak to the other. The circus continues!
Julian, N. Ireland
Let us all wish that a solution to all problems are found and that justice for Ireland, in time, ensue. Honest and good men must triumph.
Could someone ask the resulting victors what they propose to do to encourage and create employment and investment in N. Ireland considering the polarised signal being sent around the world during already fragile economic times.
I think its unfortunate that the unionist community chose to throw the peace process out with the bathwater by supporting Paisley. The process is dead in the water and we know where that road leads. It is clear now, and probably even without hindsight that there was little enthusiasm for voting for an assembly that wasn't even in existence. David Trimble has fallen into his own trap by pulling down the institution that was his own and Northern Ireland's best hope of a bright future.
Graham Walker, England
I'd like to congratulate the DUP on a great performance, and to all unionist parties its time to put aside your differences and unite with one voice for it will be only then when this country can go forward
Rodger Doherty, Northern Ireland
With Sinn Fein in the Nationalist driving seat, I think the review will be much harsher for unionists as SF are less inclined to compromise on compromises than the SDLP, however observers should not be overly concerned on whether the Assembly is suspended or not, the agreement is still been implemented, and without Stormont their are less obstructions to demilitarisation, police reform, civil and human rights agendas and equality issues, all elements opposed by Unionism.
Now that SF are the largest Nationalist party, how does the DUP intend finding an agreement which has the support of both sides without actually negotiating with the other side?
Peter, N Ireland
Same old story, all hope but no delivery by entrenched politicians. I wouldn't give odds on the Assembly not being suspended before Christmas.
Is there any possibility that this rather sophisticated and democratic voting system could be transferred to mainland Britain in time for the next General Election?
Tim Stokes, England