Blame must be apportioned to the Conservatives’ efforts to create a non-sectarian centre-right alliance in Ulster. Secular politics is admirable; but, as I argued here and here, Tory interference was diluting the Unionist vote, which is not uniformly conservative. And so it happened. For the first time ever, Sinn Fein polled the most votes and the SDLP beat the Ulster Unionists.
However, any claim that this electioneering compromised the peace process is absurd. The Conservative and Unionist Party is honour bound to preserve the Union - though it must reconsider strategy. Equally, the SDLP has long taken the Labour whip and that has not diminished progress at Stormont. Even Martin McGuiness conceded (in an interview with the New Statesman) that he foresees no problem in working with a Tory government. Owen Paterson’s electoral politics were self-defeating, but that is no impediment to his competence to discharge his ministerial duties.