13 May 2010 Edition
FOUR - My favourite number
So the elections are over. All the votes are counted. At the time of writing a government is still to be formed in Britain and here in the north of Ireland people are waiting to see who will be the next tenant in Downing Street. For our sins voters here are, at this time, part of the same electoral system so there is some interest at popular level about who will get the top job. This blog has no preference either way. Even benign British Prime Ministers have little real working knowledge of Ireland. They depend a lot on their system of ‘permanent government’ to guide them. So the challenge for Irish democrats is to educate, educate, educate.
Tony Blair, at least in his first term, was the exception to this. He knew a wee bit about us. But all British PMs have a duty to uphold the union. Therein lies the undemocratic reality of British rule in Ireland. The Union.
Even if a British Prime Minister is personally indifferent on this issue he or she (and in this case it will certainly be a he) is obliged to be a unionist. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he is also obliged to legislate for a united Ireland when the people in Ireland decide that’s what we want. So there is a constitutional fluidity on this matter which did not exist heretofore.
This matches the beginning of political fluidity on other matters which has emerged in the election results here. The relatively low turnout - an average of 57.6 percent, down 7.8 percent since the last election - is evidence that there is a disconnect between the electorate here and Westminster. This has been aggravated by the revelations of the MPs expenses scandals which dogged the last parliamentary term. With our own more accountable administration here voters are less interested in Westminster matters.
And the feeling is mutual. In the very well publicised leaders debates on television neither Labour, the Lib Dems or the Tories mentioned the north of Ireland. Not once. When David Cameron in an interview did get round to us it was to signal that there was too much dependency on the public sector here. Not unreasonably that was interpreted as code for cuts in public spending if the Tories won the election.
Cue an abrupt exit stage left for Cameron’s partners in the Ulster Conservatives and Unionist New Force as the voters had their say. They got no one elected. This blog and others is waiting to hear what Reg Empey has to say on all this.
Jim Allister, hard line former DUP MEP and anti everything, also got the heave ho! No one elected. The DUP did well but their success was drowned in the shock news of the loss of Peter Robinson’s seat.
The SDLP held on to their 3 seats with the help in South Belfast of Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey and unionist tactical voting in South Down and Derry. Sinn Féin emerged again as the largest party over all and the only main party to increase our share of the vote. Well done and thanks to everyone who worked and voted for us.
But the news of the election for Irish republicans was the nail biting finish in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Despite a pact by all shades of unionism including the Orange Order and serious vote splitting by the SDLP, Michelle Gildernew retained her seat. By 4 votes.
I am glad to say that I was there for the final recount. What joy. It was brilliant. The people of that proud constituency saw off the Tories. They saw the sense in Sinn Féin’s position and voted accordingly. And as elsewhere a significant number of people from a unionist background either stayed at home or voted for Michelle. Bobby Sands would appreciate that. Four? Four is my favourite number.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.