Elaine Byrne: Change comes gradually, then suddenly to politics in Ireland

A historic, once-in-a-generation political upheaval is surely on the way in Northern Ireland. But will it survive it?

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and northern leader Michelle O’Neill with campaigners ahead of Thursday’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections. The election will probably result in Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the North for the first time. Picture: Getty

In Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, the character Mike Campbell is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, and then suddenly.”

Hemingway’s law of motion offers a profound insight into how change is happening in Irish politics in the present day. At first, you cannot see nor feel the change because it is incremental and slow, and therefore not easily observed in any meaningful sense. Then, all of a ...