Editorial from Irish Political Review, December 2003 Northern Ireland:—Stalemate
The two Northern Ireland elections of members of the federal Assembly have been held. But, since the electors voted wrong, there is no knowing when those elected will be assembled in an Assembly. It depends on the whim of the Secretary of State, whose powers over this Assembly are more arbitrary than the powers over Parliament claimed by Charles the First.
The electors voted wrong because of the all-out efforts of two States to get them to vote right. The stubbornness of the electors in voting according to their own lights is about all that Northern Ireland has in common with a genuine democracy.
In the Catholic election, Sinn Fein has changed places with the Social Democratic and Labour Party. In the Protestant election the Democratic Unionist Party has changed places with the Ulster Unionist Party.
The most straightforwardly pro-Agreement party is Sinn Fein. It is the only party which sacrificed something in the interest of getting an Agreement. John Hume’s collaboration with Sinn Fein in bringing about the Agreement was not an SDLP/Sinn Fein collaboration. Hume acted against the bias of his own party structure in that business, but in the knowledge that, at grass roots level there was, for the most part, no hard distinction between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. There is an effective continuum of Catholic politics, just as there is of Protestant politics. Politics is communal in both cases, and voting is not determined by some deep-seated partisan principle (as in the party-politics of Great Britain), but by the apparent tactical advantage to the community of voting this way or that at a particular moment. Hume’s successors acted as if they thought they were operating in a real party-political democracy, and they have been punished for their delusion.
Fianna Fail, the PDs and Irish Labour electioneered for the SDLP in this election. They seem to have had the wit not to electioneer for the UUP. Electioneering for the SDLP was the next best thing. The SDLP electioneered for the UUP, advising voters to give it their lower preferences. The UUP did not reciprocate. Sinn Fein indicated that the SDLP should be given transfers, but the SDLP did not reciprocate. In short, the SDLP was lost in make-believe when everybody else acted in accordance with the realities of ‘the Northern Ireland state’.
The SDLP leaders like to say, as if it was something in their favour, that it is the only one of the four parties that has never had a paramilitary wing. Surely that amounts to a virtual disqualification in a ‘state’ whose origins lie in a massive paramilitary defiance of a British Act of Parliament, and whose politics have always been excluded from the structures through which of the democracy of the State (i.e. Britain) functions.
The old Nationalist Party, of which the SDLP is in substance a continuation, agreed in 1966, under pressure from the Taoiseach (Lemass) to accept the status of Loyal Opposition in the old Stormont. Lemass had not taken the trouble to analyse the ‘Northern Ireland state’ before exhorting the Nationalist Party to engage in the charade of Loyal Opposition in it, and the Nationalists did not have the character to refuse, even though they knew from long experience that Northern Ireland was not a state, that Stormont was not its democratic Parliament, and that Opposition was futile within the structures of the sub-government which had been farmed out to the all-class (and in a sense all-Party) alliance of the Protestant community. All that participation did was to bring out the futility of it and ripen conditions for the new departure of 1969.
Successive Taoiseachs have been doing to the SDLP what Lemass did to the Nationalists—encouraging it into role-playing moderation in a make-believe scenario for the purpose of strengthening it against Sinn Fein. And the invariable effect has been to bring about a swing to Sinn Fein on the part of the Catholic electorate, which knows in its bones what the actual situation is—and knows that the smug smart-Alecs in Dublin do not know, and don’t really care.
And so the anti-Sinn Fein manoeuvrings of the two States, in support of a spurious ‘moderation’, have resulted in Sinn Fein finally becoming the major Catholic party, and even overtaking the Unionist Party in First Preference votes—6,000 more, even thought he UUP got three more seats, presumably due to SDLP transfer policy. And two of the most doctrinaire anti-Republicans in the SDLP, John Fee and Denis Haughey, have lost their seats.
It is now fourteen months since the Secretary of State (then Scottish MP and ex-Communist Party militant, John Reid) suspended the Assembly for the purpose of saving David Trimble’s position as the top Unionist. The Assembly had been suspended twice before that for the same purpose. And then the elections were held back for six months beyond their mandatory date. But, with the two States and the SDLP bending over backwards to help him, he goes and loses his election.
The final suspension of the Assembly was accompanied by allegations of subversive activities against Sinn Fein. The allegation that the Republicans walked casually into Castlereagh high security police station, without any attempt at concealment, and walked out with high security documents, has not yet been formulated into a charge, not to mention a trial. And the Columbian trial, instigated by the British and American intelligence services, has not yet led to a conviction. And the net result of that operation to discredit Sinn Fein is that the SDLP (which flirted with the allegations) has been cut down to the fourth party in the statelet, and that Trimble has lost his election to Dr. Paisley, with whom he danced the Orange jig at Drumcree eight years ago.
The Women’s Coalition (effectively the Communist Party), which went Unionist at one point in the late Assembly to help Trimble, has been wiped out. The Loyalists, whose attempt to strike out on an independent line was beaten down by Trimble, have been reduced from 2 seats to 1. The Alliance held on to its 6 seats as electors on all sides gave it their low preference votes as a sentimental gesture in favour of a hopeless cause. And the UK Unionist Robert McCartney Party lost four seats, and is reduced to one, i.e. McCartney. (But those seats were lost to McCartney long before the election, having taken off on their own a few years ago to become the NIUP, which itself split and did not come close to gaining a seat this time.)
The only candidate elected outside the communal conflict was an Independent in West Tyrone, Dr. Deeny, who topped the poll, getting votes from all sides in support of keeping a local Hospital open.
The pretend-Conservative Party got 1,604, while the real Eamon McCann got over 2,000 votes in Derry. The newly-admitted members of the British Labour Party did not field a candidate. They were not allowed to; and they were happy not to be allowed to show what support they’ve got outside the Courts.
C O N T E N T S
Northern Ireland: Stalemate
Democracy vs. Prohibitionism.
Irish Times In Deep Waters.
America: Rogue State?
(Report of debate curbed by the Irish Times)
Part One of a Report by Angela Clifford
INDEX to this magazine, 2003
The Archive: News From Iraq.
An Phoblacht, 1928
Northern Ireland News Digest.
Homes For The SDLP.
Mark Langhammer (letter)
Main Election Results
An Cor Tuathail: It Is Well For You, O Blind Person by Uilliam Mac Coitir
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)
World At War
Northern Ireland News Digest.
Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
On The Industrial Front.
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