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28 May 1998 Edition

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Vote SF and counter the pandering to Unionism

By Laurence McKeown

Brian Feeney posed a very pertinent question last week. ``When is a majority not a majority?'' Simple. When the majority does not include a majority of unionists.

The question was raised prior to the vote in the referendum when some felt that the No vote was going to be much higher than it actually was on the day. Personally speaking, I always felt that the Yes vote was going to be in the region of 70%, not because I have a crystal ball but because although those campaigning for a No were very vocal, they were very vocal in halls that were often only half full. If Paisley had had a groundswell of opinion behind him he would have held outdoor rallies. That has been his trademark since the 60s. He's not one who likes to be shut away behind doors. But that's what happened.

The No campaigners had Blair shaken though and, as so often before, the cavalry had to come riding to the rescue of Trimble. To be honest, if that's the cavalry I think I'd make a deal with the other side. I mean would handwritten assurances mean more to you than ones typewritten? Be honest now. Would this paper ring more truthful to you if all the articles were penned in the handwriting of their authors? Could you even be bothered taking the time to try and decipher some of the scribbles? And did the large blown-up copies of these scribbles tell us anything different from the neatly packaged and presented print that was dropped through all our doors?

The pandering to unionists continues unabated though and is an indication of what is ahead of us. The British government will continue to attempt to play down those aspects of the Agreement which are favourable to nationalists and bolster those aspects which the unionists regard as the only reason to agree to the document. Prior to the signing it was Trimble who had to be coaxed and cajoled along. Now it appears that an effort will be made to bring the No voters in from the cold. Everyone is being so sensitive towards them. It makes me wonder what would have been said if Sinn Fein had been in that category?

On the other hand, pressure from the media is already mounting against the nationalist residents' groups who are opposed to the Orange parades going through their areas. The logic seems to run that, well, nationalists were in favour of the Agreement, the Agreement was supported overwhelmingly, so nationalists won and should now ``give something'' to the unionists by way of a compromise. We are made to believe that the Agreement was a ``green'' or nationalist document whereas we know that the elements in it that are favourable to our community had to be fought for tooth and nail right up until the moment that the final draft of it was agreed. The ink was still drying on the page when the clawback had already begun.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The Sinn Fein negotiators in the Talks have always said that the Agreement would simply herald a new phase of struggle. The first step in that struggle is to ensure that both governments live up to what they agreed to. The first battle will be the forthcoming elections. Sinn Fein has asked for an electoral pact with the SDLP which they won't get and I'm sure knew that before they asked. But it's always polite to ask and not simply assume.

Post-elections, though, there will be a realignment of political forces.

Those in the SDLP who never liked the close relationship between their party leader and Gerry Adams will be in the ascendancy. There's no need for them to bide their time any longer. They've got their kind of peace and in the new form of politics will be seeking class allies from the unionist persuasion. It's crucial therefore that Sinn Fein candidates are elected to as many seats as is possible. Only they can ensure that the minimal ground won for nationalists in the Good Friday Agreement can be held, and added to.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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