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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: March, 2017|
The Northern Election
The Northern Election
Who called the Northern Ireland election that nobody wanted?
In the Radio Ulster commentary during the voting it was repeatedly said that it was Sinn Fein. But Sinn Fein only pulled out of government after the SDLP defected from the 1998 Agreement and formed an Opposition alliance with the Unionist Party, hoping to profit by directing pseudo-democratic criticism at it over its unprincipled alliance with the DUP.
The indications were that Sinn Fein would have fudged through the difficulty of Arlene Foster's bungling of the Renewable Heating Initiative matter if the SDLP had not pulled out of Government in order to snap at its heels and had not committed itself to a post-Agreement majority-rule system in alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party.
The SDLP forced the election with its democratic posturing, which made it impossible for Martin McGuinness to manage the crisis. The outcome was that it suffered erosion in its Derry stronghold while Sinn Fein reinforced its dominance in the Nationalist community.
The SDLP vote held up rather well only because SDLP voters for the most part took no heed of the new, democratic, anti-Agreement policy of its leader.
Northern Ireland is not a democracy, never has been, and never will be.
It is a fragment of a state, excluded from the democracy of the state. The Unionist community, which constitutes the majority of the population by a small margin, and says it is British, does not want to be included in the democracy of the British state. It does not want the Tory and Labour Parties contesting Six County elections. It wants to be something itself, without having any purpose for it.
The large Nationalist minority, which considers itself Irish, has been shielded from the seductions of British democratic politics during the four generations since Partition, and it has grown in quantity and self-confidence with its identity intact.
Ian Paisley, who was more authentically British than the Unionist Party, thought to complicate life for the Nationalist community by making a deal with Sinn Fein to make the Good Friday Agreement functional. He brought the party into devolved government under the Crown.
The routine Unionists saw this as selling the pass. They turned on Paisley, hounded him out of politics, and even caused his Church to disown him.
The post-Paisleyite DUP, along with the post-Faulkner Unionist Party, have brought Sinn Fein within one seat of being the biggest party and have put the Nationalist combination ahead of the Unionist combination in the Assembly.
Mainstream BBC gave scant coverage to the Election. BBC2's Newsnight (1.3.17) gave it a contemptuous eve-of-election slot of five minutes. It noted that the UUP/SDLP Opposition was bidding to establish normal democratic politics dealing with bread-and-butter issues. It interviewed Bertie Ahern:
"Bertie Ahern says people waiting for normal bread-and-butter politics should be patient: 'I remember when I was a young politician in Leinster House, maybe in the late seventies, an old politician from one of the Southern Counties said to me that he detected in the 1977 Election that Civil War politics was coming to an end. You know—so that was the South—I don't expect the North to move—maybe not as slow, but not as quick either."
The "Civil War" political division in the Free State bore no resemblance to the communal national division in the Six Counties. Treatyites and Anti-Treatyites always knew that they belonged to the same nation. They only fought each other because Whitehall manipulated them into it with the threat that, if the dictated 'Treaty' was not implemented, there would be an Imperial reconquest. And from the very start Dublin Governments had to deal with the bread-and-butter issues.
In the North the Unionists were claimed as Irish and they denied it forcibly. Collins made war on them to prove to them that they were Irish and they resisted him by force. And the bread-and-butter issue in the North had always been dealt with by Whitehall. That was the condition on which Craigavon agreed to operate a Six County devolved Government outside the democracy of the state.
Newsnight also broadcast a comment by Margaret O'Callaghan—one of those academics from the revisionist South that Whitehall trusts with academics jobs in Queen's University:
"I think the developments of the SDLP and the UUP are quite interesting really—the idea that they would have—not a formal vote-sharing agreement across the sectarian divide—is a progressive development. Now there are some people have described Northern Ireland as almost like two separate electorates—you have almost like a Nationalist electorate and a Unionist electorate—well, if they cooperate in this way, that changes that to some degree."
The empirical fact of two distinct electorates, each with its own party system, is one of the two most obvious things about electoral affairs in the North. The University occasionally flirts with recognition of it. But it is not allowed to mention the other thing at all—exclusion from the democratic politics of the state.
There was a second factor (along with the post-Paisleyism of the DUP) that stimulated the resurgence of Sinn Fein: Brexit.
There is a strain of timid Nationalism—it calls itself Constitutional—that has desperately wished to believe that Britain, as a world force, had reached the end of its tether and had joined Ireland in Europeanism. It was disillusioned and shocked by Brexit. And Sinn Fein knew how to handle the matter.
Brexit precipitated the sea-change between the 2016 and 2017 election results. Despite the emotionalism of the centenary of 1916, nationalism did not have a good result in the centenary year. The gradual decline in nationalist turn-out was not reversed. It was only when there was an imminent prospect of separation from the European Union, and the prospect of a hard Border within Ireland—along with a reassertion of crass majoritarianism from the DUP—that there was the energising of the non-British elements of the Northern Ireland electorate, including EU nationals, which left Sinn Fein 1,168 votes behind the DUP: thus just on the verge of being the largest party.
While the DUP remains the largest party in the Assembly by a whisker, and will therefore hold the position of First Minister this time around, the prospects of a Border Poll cannot be too far away.
The Northern Election. Editorial
Lost In The Wilderness!. Jack Lane
Brexit: Irish fudge undermines EU solidarity. Editorial
Unionists In Stormont. Report
Readers' Letters: Divide And Rule? Dave Alvey
Casement Diaries: An Untenable Thesis. Tim O’Sullivan
Thoughts On The Garda Sergeant McCabe Saga. Nick Folley
Justice As An Aspirin. Wilson John Haire (Poem)
Government Brexit Meeting. Tim O’Sullivan
Cork Business 'Forgets' EU. Pat Maloney
A Round Of The Irish Brexit debate. Dave Alvey (Part 1)
Anatomy of a Lie. Paul Hyde examines misinforaation about Roger Casement
Prof. McConville And Casement. Donal Kennedy
Why has "the paper of record" failed to access its February 1917 records? Manus O'Riordan: Irish Times distortions about the 1917 Roscommon By-Election
How Redmond Won Irish Independence. Brendan Clifford (Transcendental Politics, Part 2)
Coogan's Bluff: Coolacrease Re-visited. Pat Muldowney
Biteback: Irish Policy And Brexit. Blair Horan (Report) with comments
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Asians Excel in Technology; Equal Pay for Equal Work?; Syrian War)
Labour Comment, Bus Dispute
Kickback Against Globalism. Angela Clifford
If Only (poem). Wilson John Haire