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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: June, 2010
By: Editorial

The Imperial Elections

The British Election, which is also held in the North even though it can play no real part in it, sometimes throws up some things of interest, despite its essential irrelevance.  It was suggested that this time it would really be part of the British Election.  The Irish Times, which never admitted that the British Election in the North was bogus—and was praised by Martin Mansergh for never allowing our view of Northern affairs to be expressed in it—suddenly suggested that this time it would not be bogus, but would be about the real issues of British government.  But of course it wasn't.  The famous 'bread and butter' issue made no more than a token appearance.  All the parties stood for more bread and butter.

Reg Empey's Unionist Party, even though it pretended to have become part of the Tory Party, did not advocate cuts in the supply of bread and butter.  Empey's selling point was that, if he was returned with a little flock of MPs, he would use his influence to prevent party policy being applied to the North.  He did not win a single seat—not even his own.  He lost the only seat he used to have, Lady Hermon's in North Down.   Lady Hermon held the seat, but left the Unionist Party when it attached itself to the Tories because she agreed with the policies and general outlook of Labour.

The DUP won the Protestant  election—in the North the Election is always two elections—even though the Party Leader lost his seat.   Empey says that he will resign the leadership of the Party that he got wiped out, and suggests that Peter Robinson should do likewise.  Robinson rightly scorned the suggestion.

Robinson is the pro-Agreement leader on the Unionist side and will not create a crisis for the functioning of the Agreement just because of a set-back in the irrelevant election.

Empey is the Anti-Agreement Unionist leader.  He took over after Lord Trimble had wrecked the Unionist Party by his antics.  Empey said at the start that Unionists should stop living in the past, and should stop pretending they had no responsibility for Loyalist paramilitarism.  He was unable to sustain that position when the DUP, having become the main Unionist party, accepted the Agreement and began to work it with a will—which Trimble had never done.  The irrational hatred of Paisley, combined with party rivalry, then led to Empey becoming the Anti-Agreement Unionist, trying to upset the applecart—though remaining the 'moderate' to commentators with fixed ideas.

The Anti-Agreement candidate on the other side is the SDLP, the architect of the Agreement.  Its leaders, Durkan, and now Margaret Ritchie, are driven by the same combination as Empey:  irrational hatred of Sinn Fein and party rivalry with it.

Ritchie did her best to deprive Sinn Fein of the Fermanagh seat.  Even though the various Unionist Parties all stood down and agreed on a common denominator Unionist candidate, and even though Sinn Fein stood down in favour of the SDLP in South Belfast so that it could gain the seat because of a split Unionist vote, Ritchie insisted on fielding the strongest candidate she could find in Fermanagh.  She had no hope of winning the seat.  Her only purpose was to lose it for Sinn Fein by giving it to the Unionists, and she came within a few votes of doing so.  If there had not been a mass defection of SDLP voters to Sinn Fein, she would have succeeded.

She herself held Eddie McGrady's South down seat against Sinn Fein, but with a substantially reduced vote, and with the help, according to SDLP sources, of 4,000 Unionist votes (but in reality probably nearer 6,000).  In Derry City, too, the SDLP is coming to depend on Unionist votes.  But this does not mean that the SDLP is becoming a cross-community party.  It only means that it has now become the Anti-Sinn Fein-At-Any-Cost Party.  In Constituencies where there is no hope of Unionist victory, Unionists are urged to vote against Sinn Fein by voting SDLP.  And this appeal naturally has most force with Anti-Agreement Unionists.

The stability of the North, such as it is, depends on the willing co-operation of the DUP and Sinn Fein.  There was no such willing co-operation between the UUP and the SDLP when they were the major parties.  In those years after 1998 it was all stop-start-stop.  (When the DUP had a hiccup last year, Paisley came back to explain things to them, and they took heed.)

The Traditional Unionist Voice, an Anti-Agreement breakaway from the DUP, did not make the expected breakthrough, and is now regarded as a spent force.

There has been little speculation on the probable effect of the Alternative Vote system, if the Tory backbenches allow it to be established.  A possible effect would be to accelerate the decline of the SDLP.  Under it in Fermanagh, Ritchie would have had no hope of giving the seat to the Unionist.  The SDLP would have been eliminated on the first count and most of its votes gone to Sinn Fein.

One of the last acts of Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, who defected from the Tories to New Labour, was to issue a statement that he did not consider that the quashing of the sentences passed on Danny Morrison and others in 1991, after they had spent some years in prison, entitled them to compensation.  The sentences were quashed by the Appeal Court on the ground that evidence withheld by the Prosecution at the trials would almost certainly have led to Not Guilty verdicts if it had not been withheld.  But Woodward does not accept that Not Guilty means innocent, even though the only verdicts known to English law are Guilty and Not Guilty.  He said that those who served prison sentences under a Guilty verdict should not be treated as Not Guilty just because the Appeal Court set aside the Guilty verdict as unsafe because of prosecution chicanery in the use of informants, and that the victims of this officially-admitted miscarriage of justice must show that "they are demonstrably innocent" before compensation can be considered.  In other words, he wants to go behind the law to some supposed reality which did not appear in the process of law.

But 'the rule of law' means taking what appears in the process of law to be the reality of a situation.  Not doing so is usually called authoritarianism.  The temptation to treat the outcome of the legal process as suspect, and likely to be perverse, is, however, almost irresistible even to very eminent English lawyers where Irish matters are  concerned. 

When the Birmingham  Six were acquitted after serving years in prison, Lord Denning suggested in the Spectator that they had 'got away with it'—and then beat a hasty retreat lest he should himself become a victim of the rule of law and be heavily out of pocket.  But that was in England.  And Northern Ireland is somewhere else.

In England the process of law has always been closely interwoven with the political process of government.  In Northern Ireland the process of law operates in a political vacuum and was closely bound up with irresponsible authority—authority whose source lies outside the Northern Ireland jurisdiction.  Without a democratic corrective force the law would probably have been a mere thing operated by irresponsible authority. In the absence of democratic process a different corrective force was applied.

Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, was once asked what he thought was the best form of government.  He replied:  "Despotism tempered by assassination".  As we  often  commented during the 1970s and 1980s, the authoritarian tendency in the operation of law was tempered by assassination. It is well to remember the real history of the North in recent times.


The Imperial Elections.  Editorial
The EU:  another crisis, another solution;  another . . .  Jack Lane
Jeats Studies???  Yeats & Ulysses.  Report
Editorial Digest.  (Hunger Strike;  May Day, Cameron;  TUV;  Ritchie;  Garland; Army; Flanagan;  Informers;  Sectarian Crime;  Marches;  Bradley;  Snapshot; Michael Doherty;  Head Shops)
Biteback:  In Memory Of The Dead  (Report of Tom Cooper letter);  
Professor Fanning & Major McDowell's 'White Nigger' Remarks 
(Report of Niall Meehan letter)
Turkish Real-politik?  Report
Shorts from the Long Fellow (The State & Counter-Revolution;  Credit Where Credit Is due;  Who's This 'We'?;  Gerry Ran;  Tribunal Tribulations)
Remembering Captain Kelly.  Sylvia Kelly Speech
Launch Of  Dictionary Of Irish Biography.  John Martin
DIB Blues (4).  Anthony Jordon on John McBride (report)
What Would Larkin Have Done?  Manus O'Riordan
Hiroshima.  Wilson John Haire (poem)
Es Ahora.  Julianne Herlihy  (How The Irish Cope;  The North;  Military Life In The UK With Their Queen;  The Queen's Wealth;  The IPR)
RTÉ Atrocity Propaganda In UCD History Course.  Aubane Press Release
Making Ireland Unlovable.  Desmond Fennell
Jobs Centre Funded By Fás Offers Careers In British Army.  Report
Belittling Moylan.  Brendan Clifford
Was Moylan A Rebel?  Jack Lane (Report of letter)
Israel Pushes Out the Envelope.  Editorial
General Election Results In Northern Ireland.  
Belfast Confetti, 2010 Style?  Seán McGouran
Dardanelles Debate.  (Report of further letters in Irish Examiner)
Does It Stack Up?  Michael Stack (Child Abuse & The State;  Credit Rating)

Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
The Economy by John Martin