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Fermanagh South Tyrone and the Squalid Sectarian Reality of Northern Politics April 13, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Northern Ireland, UK General Election 2010.

We all know how in 1922, commenting on the changes produced by the cataclysm of World War One, Churchill lamented that

Great Empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed. The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world; but as the deluge of the waters subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.

Which brings us, in however clichéd a fashion, to the current election in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. This is a constituency of immense symbolism, not least because it was the one taken by Bobby Sands in 1981. Like in other border areas, there has been a perception among protestants that the Provisionals sought to cleanse the area of protestant farmers, while the behaviour of state forces over a long period of time has left a legacy of bitterness of its own. The shock and anger unionists felt first at the SDLP withdrawal from the race that Sands won and then at the election of Sands fuelled their obstinacy and militancy. It also fuelled sectarian attitudes towards Catholics, with the election of Sands seen by many unionists as confirming that they were all the same – disloyal, untrustworthy, impossible to reason with, and supportive of sectarian violence against protestants. This belief can still be found among unionists, especially of the TUV variety. Of course, they are blind to the fact that calls for pan-unionist unity are often seen by Catholics as evidence of unionism’s continuing desire to dominate NI politics and society. And so it goes in NI, where the other side is seen as the only or main bearers of sectarianism. The symbolic importance of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, then, to both sides is obvious, and it stands today, as it did for Churchill, as a symbol of the supposed intractibility of sectarian conflict in Ireland.

It certainly seems to be the case in this election. As noted on this site recently, the Tory promise that the UCUNF would bring non-sectarian, normal, British politics to the whole of NI was looking shaky even before the election was called, when a Tory party fearful of a hung parliament hosted unity talks between the DUP and UUP. And such a deal was done in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, with the announcement last week that both the DUP and UCUNF would be standing aside in favour of the former chief executive of Fermanagh District Council, Rodney Connor. Connor has pledged to take the Tory whip on all matters except on those concerning his constituents. One would have thought that all matters of UK policy – such as income tax, foreign policy etc – affected his potential constituents even if they were issues limited solely to NI.

Anyway, the agreement has been met with strong criticism from the other parties, who, rightly in my view, have seen it as a sectarian carve-up. The local MP, MLA, and NI minister, Michelle Gildernew hit the spot when she said that this represented the return of the

old agenda of division and inequality”

Certainly, it has encouraged the Orange Order in Sandy Row – whose political analysis can be guessed at from the fact that they are the proud owners of a wheelie bin emblazoned with Remember 1690 – to demand that Reg Empey and the Tories agree to a similar deal for South Belfast in order to unseat the sitting SDLP Alasdair McDonnell. They have threatened to recommend that members do not vote for the UCUNF if it does not do so. The DUP has stated it is prepared to accept such a deal, while the UCUNF candidate has also declared she will do so if a unionist candidate capable of securing cross-community support can be found. One wonders how likely the prospect of finding someone who can sell a sectarian pact as a step towards non-sectarian politics is. Alex Maskey, an MLA for South Belfast, has condemned the Orange Order’s intervention.

“The weekend statement seeking a unionist unity candidate in South Belfast is not the work of a cultural body.
“It is the work of a political organisation with an anti-Catholic ethos at its core,” he said.

So strong statements from Gildernew and Maskey on the prospect of a sectarian electoral pact. Their party’s response? Gerry Adams has written to Margaret Ritchie suggesting a sectarian electoral alliance in South Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone to counter the one in place. Ritchie has refused on the grounds that it would be as sectarian as the DUP/UCUNF link-up. And how has Adams sought to justify his proposal?

“The reason why I put this proposition to the SDLP leader – or at least intended to if she had agreed to meet with me – is because that is what a section of the electorate have been telling us on the doorsteps,” he said.
“That’s what we’ve been getting on the doorsteps ‘why don’t you guys get your act in order and try and ensure the Orange Order doesn’t end up choosing who’s going to be the MP’.”

Frankly I am surprised that the offer is being spun this way, both by Adams and by some party members on the internet. The Orange Order is a popular target among Adams’ core voters, but it’s hard to see how a move like this doesn’t look like sheer sectarian politicking, even if he can say that they started it by indulging in naked sectarian politicking first. I don’t doubt that there is a lot of anger among rural nationalists over the unionist electoral pact, and a determination to ensure that it doesn’t work. Willie McCrea sealed his electoral fate in Mid-Ulster by appearing on that platform with Billy Wright. So great was nationalist anger that they opted for McGuinness as the candidate most likely to defeat him. I would expect Gildernew’s vote to go up on this basis, and for Fearghal McKinney of the SDLP to suffer because of it. It’s unclear as to whether that will be enough to ensure she keeps the seat. The raw numbers suggest a unionist can win. In South Belfast, I think that the unionists will not form a pact, and that McDonnell will sneak through again, although that’s not a confident prediction.

I’d be particularly interested in the views of any southern leftist members as to whether they think their party has got it right or wrong in making this offer. As they build towards the next election in the south, are they giving a weapon to their opponents, that they remained trapped in narrow and tribal politics? Does it suggest a sense of disconnect between north and south, or is it unlikely to be an issue? Do people think this move says anything about the left credentials of the party? How does this fit with Adams’ rhetoric about the need to persuade unionists? What about those Labour or left voters who have only recently given them a preference – will this have any impact on your decisions in future?

As far as I am concerned, what the Fermanagh/South Tyrone pact and the suggested pacts prove is that in NI, for all the progress made, and for all the rhetoric from elements of both unionism and nationalism about shared futures and civic politics, we remain trapped in a nakedly sectarian political culture. Both nationalism and unionism are fundamentally sectarian entities, and only progressive politics can break their hold over our society.


1. Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Sectarianism « Garibaldy Blog - April 13, 2010

[…] Tyrone and Sectarianism By Garibaldy I have just posted a piece at Cedar Lounge Revolution on what the unionist electoral pact in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Gerry Adams’ proposal for […]


2. splinteredsunrise - April 14, 2010

In South Belfast, I think Jimmy Spratt could still win without a pact. Reg Empey and Paula Bradshaw are damned either way. And the spinning from UCUNF of Rodney Connor’s cross-community credentials… well, he may not be personally sectarian, but anyone who sees the deal as sectarian politicking will be absolutely right.

I’m not sure what Gerry thought he was doing. He must have known Ritchie would turn him down flat, or maybe that’s why he did it. From the grapevine, there’s already something of a populist Save Michelle mood down in FST, and there is literally no way the SDLP could come out of it well. That would be the one constituency where you’d be most likely to get spontaneous polarisation; on the other hand, a lot of Maskey’s votes come from people in the Markets and Lower Ormeau who really can’t stand McDonnell.


3. Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

I think it’s possible Spratt might win, but I think McDonnell could well still do it. Depends to some extent on whether McDonnell can attract some of Alliance’s base. Anna Lo will be fighting hard though I would think.

As for Gerry. It might well be that he wanted a rejection so they look like the victim. Good politics for this election perhaps. But I’m not sure it is sensible for them in the long term as attempts might be made to turn this against them down below.


4. Drithleog - April 14, 2010

On an aside note – I couldn’t help noticing the way that RTÉ Radio’s “This Week” programme, in a item on Fermanagh / South Tyrone last Sunday referred to how Bobby Sands had “captured the seat for Sinn Féin” in 1981. He didn’t of course. While the Provos were certainly the force behind Sands’ campaign, he and his fellow hunger strikers (some of them members of the INLA) contested that election as independents under the banner of H-Block / Armagh hunger strikers.


5. Joe - April 14, 2010

Where’s Davy Kettyles when you need him eh? Since Davy stepped back from elections, I think I saw some kind of independent socialist elected in Enniskillen in the 90s or even this decade. I know that any such candidate would garner very few votes this time around in FST but it would be good for someone to stand as a non-sectarian socialist alternative.


Gypsy - April 14, 2010

I think Davy is working full time for UNITE or he was last time I heard anything about him. I know when he retired from the council he endorsed SP candidates so maybe Mark P might know a bit more about what he is up to.


Joe - April 14, 2010

Who needs Mark P when we have google? Paul Dale was the Socialist Party candidate in Enniskillen Ward, Fermanagh Council, in 2005. Davy endorsed him.


Davy Kettyles - January 8, 2012

Just picked up on this blog. In answer to the Question, where’s Davy Kettyles when you need him. Answer, simple, still fighting the good fight in Dublin. Living and working their now. Sadly no one got re-elected to fill the council seat I left due to ill health in 2005.


WorldbyStorm - January 9, 2012

And good to hear too Dave. 🙂


Joe - January 9, 2012



6. Mick Herbert - April 14, 2010

The north-south disconnect is very evident on the Sean Quinn issue, as noted previously on this site. Jack Crowe lambasted Quinn at the Easter commemoration at the GPO. But Gildernew has come out with bascially Quinn Group spin and O Coalain doesn’t seem to know what to say. There seems to be discomfort for SF in the north in openly criticising a nationalist, GAA prominent businessman (sorry wild financial gambler). Surely it is not difficult to argue that the jobs should be saved; but the reason they are in danger is because of Sean Quinn?


WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2010

I read what you said at lunch time today and though ‘exactly, couldn’t agree more’. It’s not rocket science to be able to make that distinction you point to and yet somehow it’s not being done.


7. que - April 14, 2010

So who will we vote for if we accept the inherent sectarianism of either politcal philosophy in the north. Is there an alternative.

I think the only discomfort for SF in the north is to ensure they are seen to be focussed on keeping people in jobs. Thats what ordinary people are worried about and rightfully so. They have been arguing for those jobs to be saved and i dont think they feel too worried about Quinn.


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

Thanks for the response que. I think that it could be possible to build a civic version of both nationalism and unionism that would not be sectarian. But any time it has been tried, it has fallen under the pressure of communal solidarity. And will continue to do so while both nationalists and unionists with progressive politics align themselves to these all-class alliances. We need to embrace a different type of politics, building it from the ground up. There will certainly be alternative candidates across significant areas of the six counties in the Assembly and local elections if not at this one. I note though that Alliance is standing in every constituency, and Eamonn McCann in Derry.

I would agree with you that people in the north will not see Adams’ call as a problematic one. I think jobs will be a bigger issue in Fermanagh/South Tyrone than elsewhere because of the immediate threat to Quinn’s. But even then, being realistic, how many voters will vote on the basis of a candidate’s programme for job protection and creation? Very, very few I suspect.


que - April 14, 2010

go raibh maith Garibaldy


8. Mick Herbert - April 14, 2010

‘They have been arguing for those jobs to be saved and i dont think they feel too worried about Quinn.’
Cop-out Que. Why not use the language Sean Crowe did on Easter Sunday? Why not say ‘this is typical of the specualators during the boom, they have placed your jobs in danger, don’t trust them?’ Instead they are running with ‘Sean’s a great man, who does the regulator think he is, lets join the Quinn workers march, (facilitated by management), lets listen to the Quinn workers (sorry management spokespeople)’ not a word about Quinn being non-union. Listen, maybe Sean and Peter are well got with SF in Fermanagh but he deserves everything Seanie Fitz is getting. And the fact that SF haven’t clear position on this says there are two SFs: one on each side of the border, one broadly leftist, one Catholic nationalist.


Ramzi Nohra - April 14, 2010

or maybe one pragmatic. I think you hit the nail on the head in your no. 6 comment. Why shit on someone who stood by you in a conflict situation?
A community which views itself as under siege (as did both communities during the troubles, but we’re talking here about the nationalist community) unfortunately tends to look after its own to a certain extent.
I’m not really sure what SF in the North would gain by going hell for leather against Quinn at the moment.


eamonn dublin - April 14, 2010

When you question ” what would SF in the north gain by going hell for leather against Quinn” I think you miss a fundamental point. Its what would we all gain. It should not be about electoral gains alone. The workers need to be protected not Gambler Quinn. Joe Higgins has made a valid point by calling for the jobs to be nationalised as a way of saving as many as possible. If SF continue to be guided by electoral benefits over actual political points well they are no better than the rest.


que - April 14, 2010

But eamonn,

” while the danger of SF contining to be guided by electoral benefits over actual political points well they are no better than the rest.”

Who is effectively managing struggle outside electoral politics. If its to be done then it needs to be done via a large community united. Is there a party who has presently realised such a target outside of electoral politics. I think SF might be the only one actually.


9. Ramzi Nohra - April 14, 2010

Interesting take on it G.
Not much to disagree with but I think here Gerry is the lesser of two evils.

I know “themuns did it first” sounds a bit playground, but the fact is SF would have to at least consider responding to the pan-unionist candidate.

It smacks of unionist dominance and gerrymandering, in that an unionist will end up representing a clearly nationalist area. If that was as a result of voting patterns than fine – but as a result of a (anti-competitive?) pact then that is decidedly non-democractic.

A SF/SDLP pact wouldnt have been great, for the reasons you mention, but justifiable in the context.

As for your final sentence, I’m afraid Northern Ireland will remain a sectarian entity for as long as it remains an entity. “Progressive” politics have been tried again and again but consistently fail if they dont somehow address the national question. The WP stance in this election is the latest manifestation of this. If they couldnt make it work given the will and the resources they had, I’m not sure if it could ever work. (although I think a tweaking of a few statements/policies during the 80s could have extended their longevity)

By the way I got Sean Swan’s “Politics of Official Republicanism” on e-book recently and that comes out strongly in his analysis.


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010


I lost a version of this when my browser crashed about 800 words in (and what a bastard that was), but that version talked about the issue of representation. Gildernew said that this was a step back, towards denying nationalists representation. I had pointed out that this was how unionists and many nationalists felt about abstentionism. Given that people vote for abstentionists, that’s up to them. But the majority of people in F/ST vote for non-abstentionist parties. I don’t think though that Gildernew should take the seat for that reason, and don’t think anyone would argue that she should (although I do of course think that she should take the seat, especially if there is a hung parliament and she and her party can help keep the Tories out).

I don’t think myself that this does smack of gerrymandering, though it is certainly sectarian, especially in light of the moves to unseat McDonnell. He is not an abstentionist, and denies representation to nobody.

Certainly NI was created as a sectarian state, and discrimination was the foundation of the regime and in much of society. And sectarianism remains at its core. Having said that, as I said above in response to que, I do think it would be possible to build civic unionism and nationalism, as well as other philosophies, but the will to do so is not there. I’m not sure the way the state was created nearly 100 years ago accounts for that in as direct a fashion as some people would like to think. People bear more responsibility for their own attitudes than that.

Regarding the point about the national question. I appreciate the cogency of your analysis. But. I could respons with the argument that The WP’s position – while obviously having a preference for a socialist republic built through working class unity both north and south – boils down to unity by consent. The most popular position among nationalists throughout the Troubles – as seen by the fact that they mostly voted SDLP – and the position of the whole of nationalism now with the exception of the dissidents. That would suggest that people’s position on The WP was dictated primarily by other factors – in my view, their position on sectarianism or tribal/communal politics.

Building a progressive alternative is not easy, and in some ways is more difficult now than ever before given the general weakness of the left throughout Europe. But that doesn’t mean we must not try.


Ramzi Nohra - April 14, 2010

Thanks for the response – especially given your IT issues!

Yeah I agree about absentionism. Doesnt help anything at the moment. As a party SF need to choose to be either pargamatists or idealists, no point in picking and choosing.
Although I suppose there are internal party politics to consider…

When you say “civic unionism” or “civic nationalism”, do you mean a form of those ideologies not linked to the religion of its followers? If so I agree it should be possible, but just think everything in the north- schooling, housing etc means that the idea will be extremely difficult to get off the ground.

I agree with what you say about the WP- I accept that their position remained republican throughout. However, without meaning to get into the discussion we regularly have 😉 I would think that the rhetoric coming out of the WP in the 80s (perhaps particularly out of some future DL folk) was more distinctly unionist-centric, to the extent that I am not sure how visible they were as a republican party to the nationalist population in the North, whatever the reality of the underlying ideology.

I also accept that believers in progressive politics should not give up, politics go in cycles after all, and the general weakness of the left may be reversed over time (although being negative one would have thought the current economic climate would have provided more of a boost to the left than has actually occurred)


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

I don’t think that there will be a better chance to abandon abstentionism than this election, but I just don’t think they will do it. Which is a shame. I mean, you could make the argument that their access to British ministers and powers is such that it doesn’t matter whether they go to Westminster or not. But if they get the chance to determine which British ministers and turn it down, and help put a more right-wing government in power, I think that would be a great mistake. Then again, if there is no hung parliament it is less of an issue.

And yes, by civic unionism/nationalism, I mean it in the sense argued by Norman Porter, of separating politics and religion via a new active citizenship. As you say, structurally NI is a sectarian society, and we need to change that. The state is the most effective force for doing so, in my view, precisely because of what you are saying about housing, education etc. But of course, the state won’t do it until minds begin to change first.

Not to go over old ground :), but I suspect that people in the north’s vision of The WP were determined primarily by northern representatives, even if some comments by southern members were picked up for northern debates against the WP.

As for the left and economic crisis. Too big an argument for me to get into here beyond saying unemployment means disorganisation of workers.


Tom Griffin - April 14, 2010

How much difference would five seats really make in a hung parliament anyway? They wouldn’t have stopped 42 days for example.

It would be a wild gamble that it might make it that bit more likely that the Queen would invite Gordon Brown to form a government. If things are really that close, there’s likely to be a second election.

The most they could hope for, in fact those most any Northern party can really hope for, is to exercise a bit of leverage horsetrading on the odd close vote.

Why reinforce the idea that is an viable approach to achieving accountable government when SF’s whole ethos is that it isn’t?

It would mean giving up their most consistent principle since 1905, alienating many republicans and boosting the dissidents, on the off chance of influencing a parliament that has never been more discredited than it is now.

Yes, it might win some votes in the middle ground, but surely the point is to win the middle ground away from Westminster politics?

In fact, the very fact that there is a first past the post election at all, is a reflection of how badly Westminster politics fits the North’s interests and UCUNF are doing a pretty good job of highlighting it.


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

Fair points Tom. Although I am sceptical as to how much support this would cost them. They have crossed every other line in the sand without it having any negative effect on their vote share. And in many respects, it has been good for the vote share. As for organisational impact, I think that their activists are practical people, and again overwhelmingly stayed loyal. I don’t believe that the people who stayed in 1986 and after were ever really that ideological, and I think their political development since then has proven it.

Five MPs or whatever mightn’t be a lot. But depending on circumstances it might be. Enough to get something of value anyway, in some form of a Gregory deal. I’m thinking in terms of investment/softening the blow of cuts or say holding off water privitisation rather than anything more substantial.


WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2010

That’s a very interesting point about it in some respects good for their vote.


Tom Griffin - April 14, 2010

Maybe the real issue isn’t so much the immediate electoral effect as the longer term strategic consequences.

One of the reasons for SF’s success over the years was the sense that they have a coherent strategy, and the all-Ireland dimension is a big part of that, however much trouble it may be in.

Sitting in Westminster would undercut that. I actually think it would be used against them more in the south than a pact with the SDLP.

The Gregory analogy is a good one, in that those kind of deals are good for short-term local advantages but not necessarily for any longer term goals or for any concept of the national interest or the common good.

In that respect, taking their seats at Westminster just to do those kind of deals would be a step away from any kind of serious republican politics, towards accepting that their role is just to be a Catholic clientelist party within the union.


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

So you don’t think they have thrived precisely because they have become such an effective Catholic clientalist party Tom?
They have done that without dropping the UI rhetoric, and don’t see that they couldn’t do the same with Westminister.

As I said earlier, I see the force of your arguments. Equally, turning up occasionally when it suited them I don’t think would have any strategic implications. I don’t think that people vote for them any more or less because they don’t take their seats, but for the message it sends about their aspirations and loyalties. That wouldn’t change by sitting in Westminister any more that it would change by being a minister of the crown. People can draw the distinction I think.

As for serious republican politics. Well I don’t see how that can possibly fit with tribal politics as advocated by the pact proposal myself.


10. Mick Herbert - April 14, 2010

Sean Quinn is a Fianna Fail supporter as far as I know. What would SF gain from attacking him? Well their pretentions to socialism would be boosted by being prepared to say it’s not just because of the weather that the Quinn Group is in trouble and that we can’t condemn reckless gambling on the part of the elite and not mention Sean Quinn.


11. Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

I think, Mick, your analysis of this has been pretty spot on. I suspect that the real aim of Adams and co is to effectively make themselves the modern equivalent of the old nationalist party over the next 15 years or so by constantly eating into the remaining SDLP base. They need to attract the bourgeoisie to do so, having already got large parts of the church and educational establishment onside.


12. Roasted Snow - April 14, 2010

If the agreed Unionist candidate in FST is to accept the Tory whip then there is every possibility of defeating him on the basis that an agreed anti unionist candidate would support a minority Labour government and this would appeal to progressive protestant voters. But who would that candidate be? SF are abstentionists and yet would get the biggest anti unionist vote this is their claim to the seat. However if SF were to step aside for the SDLP non abstentionists then this would be a winner for progressives including Protestant voters. Vote for McKinney and support a Labour government!. Mc Kinney is a bit of a celebrity as well and would take a cross community vote in middle class areas of Enniskillen. By stepping aside SF would also improve their standing as pro progressive. This vote does not have to be sectarian it could be anti tory.


Ciarán - April 14, 2010

But SF has the incument MP in FST, there’s no way they’re going to give that up.

The real nub in their ‘offer’ to the SDLP is that even if SF withdrew from South Belfast, there’s still no guarantee the SDLP would hold it. Whereas a single nationalist candidate in FST will almost certainly win.


Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

I think it’s an interesting point you raise Roasted Snow about anti-Tory credentials, and it’s certainly one that the SDLP should be playing as hard as they can, especially in South Belfast. I think myself that McKinney’s run here is to position him well for a seat at the next Assembly elections rather than thinking he might win the seat. That separates him from Mike Nesbitt (not that that looks too likely right now).


13. Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

Some follow up to this. First Gerry Adams, who still seems to think that the peace process (isn’t it over yet?) means that the SDLP should do what is best for PSF. From UTV

“This confused, narrow minded, ill-judged position has marked the SDLP stance in recent times”, Mr Adams said in Derry after Ms Ritchie rejected his offer.

“Their approach has been dictated not by what is good for nationalists or for the peace process, but by their antipathy toward Sinn Fein.”


And then we have Margaret Ritchie. The following extract seems to me to support my point about communalism inevitably holding back progressive politics. In her response to Adams, she says the pact would be sectarian, but also criticises the Provos for being in cahoots with the DUP, including this gem

“Yesterday, we saw the result of your concession, to the DUP, of a veto against nationalists in the appointment of a Justice Minister. Your Party has acted with unionism to deny nationalists an extra seat at the Executive table to which they were entitled through the Good Friday Agreement, the democratic will of the people of Ireland . Nationalists are now under-represented in Government, courtesy of Sinn Fein.
You negotiated (also privately with the DUP) a set of boundaries for the new 11 Councils which has the net effect of transferring around 100,000 citizens into councils with an inbuilt unionist majority.”


Now, the SDLP have a valid complaint about the violation od D’Hondt. But to make that argument not on democratic principles. but on the under-representation of nationalists is a bit off, and the remark about the councils is also hard to fit into any but a communalist narrative. Just can’t help themselves.


richotto - November 5, 2013

“Now, the SDLP have a valid complaint about the violation od D’Hondt”

Glad you mentioned that as it demolished any prospect of co-operation between Sf and SDLP in the run up to the last General Election. Sf was offering a swap one nationalist candidate standing in Fermanagh and Sth Belfast constituencies. This was unequal in the first place as Fermanagh was more marginal, SDLP needed Sf votes less and they would have scared off the cross community vote that McDonnell had achieved with his moderation. But the killer blow to any deal was Sf denying SDLP their due under the agreement of a second seat at the Stormont cabinet, preferring instead to make a cynical backroom deal with the DUP for Alliance to get it instead.


14. CeasefireMagazine - April 14, 2010

The idea that the Unionist pact in F&ST is sectarian and a Nationalist one in F&ST and South Belfast would be only rings true if we accept Garibaldi’s premise that “Both nationalism and unionism are fundamentally sectarian entities” In which case SDLP are surely admitting that despite all their rhetoric they are a sectarian party in which case they have no reason to complain about sectarian pacts.
That is not to say that a Unionist pact in F&ST would be fair to the nationalist majority or indeed to Unionist voters as they would have no chance express there preference for either for the UUP, DUP or TUV which, as the debates and vote on devolution-of-policing recently showed, have a lot genuine differences between them, DUP and TUV voters especially have been denied the chance to vote for non de facto tory candidate. I do however feel a nationalist pact in nationalist majority consituencies would however would be fair to both nationalists and unionists as both the SDLP and Sinn Fein are (like their support base) centre-left, pro-GFA pro-devolution parties who would be loath to see the tories back in power.


15. Garibaldy - April 14, 2010

And the issue of abstentionism CM? Is it fair to have an MP who won’t go to sit in the parliament?

The SDLP certainly believed such a pact would be sectarian, and I’ll admit I’m at a loss as to see how one isn’t and one is. As I’ve noted though, I think Ritchie’s response had a touch of sectarianism about it.

The DUP and UCUNF are both pro-devolution, and both work powersharing quite happily. The DUP, it seems to me on the basis of its populist record, as a claim to be as centre-left as most other parties, including its partners in government.

I take the point about not being Tories. But I wonder, looking at the 11 Plus mess where there was a revolt against both their political representatives and the Catholic church that controls the schools, just how centre-left the electoral base of nationalism actually is. I see no overwhelming evidence of it – it’s perfectly possible to believe in large-scale state spending and not embrace left politics.


splinteredsunrise - April 15, 2010

You raise an interesting point there, in terms of the SDLP at least. Ritchie’s expressed line on public spending is one of total opposition to all cuts, which makes her sound a bit like an agitprop Trot – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing 🙂 – but it takes us back to the old Labourite criticism that the SDLP was basically a Christian Democratic party. No, I think at least in terms of their self-image they set a lot of store by the centre-left positioning they’ve inherited from Fitt, Devlin and (in a somewhat different way) Hume.

If they actually were a Christian Democratic party along the lines of say the Bavarian CSU or the Austrian Peoples Party – for cultural conservatism, Church, family and nation – it would actually be more in tune with the SDLP’s sociological base. Listen to Mgr Iggy McQuillan up in Derry always talking about how the Catholic bishops’ education policy is based on kowtowing to PSF and the teaching unions – given how popular Lumen Christi is with the Catholic middle class in Derry, a defence of academic selection would probably go down very well with their base. And yet, they still pretend to be socialists of some description!


Garibaldy - April 15, 2010

Margaret Ritchie as agitprop Trot – I think you’re on to something there SS. I’d agree with you that the social democratic positioning is important to elements of the SDLP, including the younger ones, if not to their electorate. I think it’s part of the reason McDonnell lost the leadership election. Clearly he’s the more bruising politician of the two, and the better organiser, which is what you might think was needed at this juncture, but dislike oh him and the suspicion that he wanted to join up with FF did for him I think. I think there was a large enough segment that couldn’t stomach the idea of having to find a new home. Still, a party with an openly Marxist blogger and lots of Fianna Fáil-types simultaneously amongst its members is going to have an identity crisis, and I think it has hurt them with the last two choice of leaders.

On academic selection. Is it just me or have they lowered the volume of their opposition to it?


16. logan - April 14, 2010

“And the issue of abstentionism CM? Is it fair to have an MP who won’t go to sit in the parliament?”

In what way is it unfair Garibaldy, if most of the electorate vote for it?

Personally I would not vote for an abstentionist candidate but if that is what most of the electorate vote for is that not their right?

If reducing the number of non-Tory abstentionist candidates in Northern Ireland was the main aim, the best thing would be for the SDLP to do a deal with SF to cover ALL the constituencies in NI, where you could probably get four SDLP and four SF candidates elected.

Then, at least four SDLP representatives would be going to Westminster representing their constituents, and four SF abstentionist candidates would be keeping four potential Tory “Unionist Unity” cabndidates out.

Also, there seems to me to be a bit of pious breast-beating on this tread about “sectarian politics”.

The fact is that a “Unionist Unity” candidate makes the election ethnically based anyway – Nationalist inclined voters in FST will stop wondering “Will I support SF or SDLP…hmmm, let me read their manifestos (ok, I admit probably a tiny minority decide on that exact basis) and start thinking “Should i vote for that Shinner scum Gildernew to keep the Unionist out?”

In other words, it makes the election a sectarian head-count whether Margaret Ritchie does a deal or not.

I am not sure why the SDLP deciding to PRETEND that the FST election has not been reduced to a sham no matter what they do now is somehow seen as the more noble position by some?

Personally I hate the idea of the NI FPTP Westminster elections being reduced to sectarian headcounts in this fashion, but the best way to prevent it is actually a bit counter-intuitive.

Let me explain:

What the SDLP should do to keep the “sectarian headcount” element down in Westminster elections would be to agree a watertight deal with SF that if (and ONLY if) the main unionist parties did the dirty and went for a “Unity” candidate that SF and the SDLP would reciprocate .

That would end it as the individual Unionist parties would have no incentive to endure the bitterness and wrangling of pushing their own candidates out in some constituencies if they did not have the incentive of being sure it would throw the seat to their side.

That is the only practical way to do it IMHO, at least until we have proportional representation in Westminster elections.

Anyone think of a better one?


CeasefireMagazine - April 14, 2010

I wrote my last message before I read your post so i apologize if i repeated some of your points


17. Garibaldy - April 14, 2010


As I said above, if people vote for abstentionists that is totally up to them. Although the point about most of the electorate is an interesting one. With the exception of West Belfast, abstentionist voters in 2005 were in a minority in the seats held by abstentionist MPs, though they obviously form the largest single group in each of those seats.

It wasn’t me who raised the issue of fairness here, or the idea that a pact could be fair to both nationalist and unionist voters. The point I was asking about was whether according to the logic of this idea of fairness, could it still be fair if voters were effectively denied the opportunity to vote for a candidate of their persuasion who would take the seat and represent them in parliament. The argument was being made that a nationalist pact would be fair to all because it would be more progressive and non-Tory, but it ignored the fact that it would mean non-Tory MPs who didn’t actually influence the outcome in the house of commonts. It seemed to me it was a question worth discussing if one were going to make the argument that was made above by CM.

As for pious breast beating. I’ve never believed that it is right to stoop to the level of someone else’s sectarianism. Whether that be Reg Empey, Johnny Adair, or whoever else. That may be pious breast beating but I’ll stick with it.

As for sectarian headcounts. The election was a sectarian headcount before the pact, and remains so after. What the pact has done is remove the figleaf that the parties use to pretend otherwise. I’m not really sure how PR means elections are not sectarian headcounts either. I think they remain so at all levels, from the local to the European. I’d have thought the European election, which is PR, is the sectarian headcount par excellence.


18. CeasefireMagazine - April 14, 2010

On the issue of abstentionism it is not fair, and deeply undemocratic, for politicians elected by the people to have to swear oath to an unelected, let alone foreign, sovereign in order to be able to take their seat. Thus Shinners as nominal republicans prohibit their members doing so, yet they have no problems with anyone else taking seat on their behalf and nor does their support base so standing down in South Belfast would be perfectly fair to their constituents and the SDLP would gain from standing down in F&ST as that would leave one less seat in opposition (ie. Tory) hands.

The UUP weren’t in favour of the devolution of policing and justice and during the debate on the issue spoke out against the DUP’s madatory coalition with Sinn Fein calling it a 2 party junta, which led the DUP to brand them as being in a voluntary coalition with “Oglaigh Na hEireann, The Real IRA, The Continuity IRA and the TUV”. This doesn’t seem to me to be 2 parties on the same page and I think the unionist electorate should be able to choose which one they agree with. If the DUP are centre-left then that is yet another issue in which they differ from the other Unionist parties.

Like you say the 11 Plus mess was a revolt against both the SDLP and Sinn Fein proving that the Catholic Middle-Class supporters of both parties are as right wing on this issue as each other. However on most issues i would suspect Catholics from six counties in both parties would regard themselves as centre-left in equal measure.

I am however in complete agreement with you about the lack of correlation between belief in large scale spending and left politics.


19. Garibaldy - April 15, 2010


You’ll get no argument from me about an oath to the monarchy. Although the crossing of the fingers by Dennis Skinner and the like has always seemed to me to treat it with the contempt it deserves.

Similarly, I’d agree that sectarian pacts should not be taking place.

The UUP position on P&J was an utterly cynical one that in my view did not reflect their real position, which is that they negotiated the agreement, and want it to work in full. The mandatory coalition of course applies to any party that gets enough seats to claim a ministerial post, but the carve up by the DUP and PSF, and their attempts to humiliate the smaller parties, is all their own work. So not reading off same hymnsheet I’d agree, but I still think they are on the same page.

I think the sad fact about the 11 Plus is that it is not just the middle classes that support it. Lots of working class people do too, especially if they benefited from it (in their eyes). The other thing of course is that firstly it should have been both abolished and replaced in 2002 when the chance was there instead of the cop-out of the Burns Report, and secondly, I wonder if there wasn;t always an intention to use it as a negotiating tool with the unionists. I hope not, but I’m not sure.


CeasefireMagazine - April 15, 2010

I never knew that about Dennis Skinner, thats funny but it doesn’t really invalidate the oath.
Like I said a Nationalist pact is only sectarian if you accept the premise that Nationalism (which really just boils down to the fact that the Island of Ireland is a nation and should be united through constitutional means) is inherently sectarian in which case a nationalist party contesting elections is just as bad as nationalist parties making pacts. Similarly I don’t criticise the Unionist pact for being sectarian but for being unfair gerrmandering against a nationalist majority and denying the unionist electorate a chance to choose between 3 Unionist parties that have significant differences between them (they are also denied a chance to express displeasure at the Robinsons’ financial improprieties). I didn’t mean argue however (as you summarised before in your reply to logan) that the fact the the SDLP and Sinn Fein are progressive this makes their pact more acceptable, its the fact that their as progressive as eachother. Similarly the fact that teh DUP, according to you, position themselves as centre left populists puts them further at odds with the centre right UUP and far right TUV.


Garibaldy - April 15, 2010

The oath is meaningless. Besides which, there is precedent for taking a pledge you don’t intend to keep in recent NI history, when the PSF candidates entered local government elections back in the 1980s. So it wouldn’t be the first time an oath was taken for strategic reasons, and it had no visible results one wa or the other.

I’ve already said I think a civic form of both unionism and nationalism is possible. But I do think both nationalism and unionism as currently practised are inherently sectarian because they seek to base themselves on one section of the Irish people, rhetoric to the contrary not withstanding. Would the Provos standing aside for McDonnell in South Belfast be an unfair gerrymander? It’s a majority unionist constituency. As for the point about the two nationalist parties being as progressive as each other, I think both would dispute that.


20. shea - April 15, 2010

call a spade a spade. there is two compeateing ideologies in the north over what irelands constitutional position should be. its never going to be settled untill one side looses out right. pick a side and move on. this is an election not a balkin style conflict. the question doesn’t look like going away. the odds of both sides evaporating at the same time are slim, its a meaningless pipe dream. one side has to give fist first for it to be setled, in a democratic areana that means one side convinceing a substantial amount of the supporters of the apposeing side of the alternative and that block colapseing.

the answer is no different for the left. mcann and other socialists can talk all they want about taking the conflict beyond tribal devisions but with out coming down on a side on the national quetion the elephant is still in the room, is the proposed socialist society going to be a british or an irish state which is kind of mental that it has to be said, how can people talk about creating a socialist society with out defineing the state it will operate in. if fairness to the sp with there federation of the isles i think they have but don’t think the swp have, which to me makes it counter productive.

given all this don’t think theres anything unreasonable with the unionists unitying to get this seat or SF prososeing to try and get it. its all part of the same game playing out.


21. Garibaldy - April 15, 2010


I believe in a democratic, secular, socialist unitary state on the island of Ireland – a Republic. So in that sense, I’ve certainly chosen a side. But that side is neither nationalist nor unionist, but socialist. I aim to win people to a different ideology. Labour shouldn’t wait, especially as it is clear that essentially we have stasis in NI for the foreseeable future on the constitutional question.


22. shea - April 15, 2010

your idea sounds good to me but break it down the core of it is it happening in a brit or irish state. personaly think its doublespeak to make out its not.

fair enough, hsitory shows that any movement that neglected the labour question eventualy hits a brick wall but equaly any movement that neglects the national question. there two live issues that need to be pushed forward in tandum feeding off each other.

groups that support a unitary irish state don’t look like over turning the status quo any time soon but that doesn’t make the issue dead or morrbid if it was thered be no fermanagh s tyrone issue.


23. THATS NOT MY NAMA! - April 15, 2010
24. Garibaldy - April 15, 2010


No doublespeak involved. It is about what type of society you want in Ireland. Both nationalism and unionism mean continuing capitalism. Socialism does not. You may see the core of it as a British and Irish state. To me the core of it is the type of society we are in, whether people have jobs, access to decent services etc. That is the core of our lived reality, regardless of whether the flag over Stormont is red, white and blue or green, white and orange.

It’s not that the national question is dead. Rather that the means to solve it has been agreed upon by everyone, and people are determined to get on with other things in the meantime.


shea - April 15, 2010

i don’t see why unionism or nationalism means continueing captitalism. both are communal contructs with internatal values of fraternaty. values sounds fairly social to me. at the very least evalutionaty potential. concidring formations have come out of nationalism in the part not unlikely that it is happening now or will happen again iam not an expert on unionism and considering its in an ideological battle with nationalism the understandable inclanation for it is to be conservative to hold the status que, but if it wins that a battle post nationalism who knows, if it looses who cares.

the flag march is grand if were talking about the beat of the march of the march of the nation. but with out coming down on the definition of a state were not even talking about the direction the nation is marching in.

both issues will happen in tandum in my opinion, neglect one and the project stalls or looses momentum.


Garibaldy - April 15, 2010

Looking at the southern state and the politics of the northern nationalist parties, I reckon we can conclude that nationalism is not going to transform itself into a socialist entity. As for unionism, it is been in a capitalist ideology, and no reason to think it will change any time soon. Socialism means an end to both of them as they currently exist, and have existed for decades.


25. THATS NOT MY NAMA! - April 15, 2010
26. shea - April 16, 2010

the parties in the south have negected the national question. they fell in the consevative carnival of reaction connelly pradicted they would same for unionism.

southern society post partition was almost perfectly homogonous. socialists in the south need(ed) a large demograph that doesn’t allow political parties to settle for the traditional middle ground. imagine if pasley was challangeing the authoritive nature of the catholic church from the position of a monority, could have been the exact same message but a completly different context. but it didn’t happen. suited some people not to push on with a national agenda and others fell into that thinking.


27. Garibaldy - April 16, 2010

The southern state was constructed according to the ethos of nationalism at that time. I think it was reflective of a deeply conservative rural society, socially anyway.

I think the question here is in practical terms, what more can be done to further the national question? Beyond persuasion, what can you do?


28. Roasted Snow - April 16, 2010

I actually do believe McKinney could take the seat on an anti cuts/anti tory ticket and narrowly defeat the agreed unionist were SF to stand aside. This position would also be strengthened as Daniel for the SP, the WP and Erigi would not be standing but their supporters would be anti cuts. Not all nationalists in FST would support McKinney. Many would not vote. I know that in South Fermanagh many plan not to vote anyway as the situation as they see it is lost. However about half would support McKinney on an anti cuts/tory agenda. The tories are not liked by Fermanagh nationalists, 1981 is still remembered by 40 somethings and the older generation. Historically Fermanagh is not a republican county like Tyrone it is more anti unionist, Frank Maguire, Frank McManus and Austen Currie SDLP all did well here in the past although I think de Valera took Fermanagh South in 1918. McKinney could take this seat narrowly with sdlp, left and other nationalist support and would take some anti tory unionist votes. Not only would the Tories be denied another seat but a potential Labour government would gain one. However looking at today’s latest poll for ITV it seems Gordon might be about to do an 1983 or 87 for Labour.

Just a thought!


29. irishelectionliterature - April 16, 2010

There is supposedly a second Unionist Candidate ….

from http://www.impartialreporter.com/news/roundup/articles/2010/04/15/391215-wilson–backing-for-connor/
It’s been confirmed a fifth candidate is to throw their hat into the ring and contest the Fermanagh/south Tyrone seat in the general election on May 6.
John Stevenson from Enniskillen is to submit his nomination papers into Omagh’s Electoral Office tomorrow (Friday) and is to stand as an Independent.

Presumably that will help Michelle Gildernew hold on.


30. shea - April 16, 2010

agreed but there was strands that were left out. the project went so far and stalled.

in total agreement that the means now is through persuaion. elections are a part of one argument gaining a position over another argument. so back to the start don’t see anything wrong with what unionists are trying to do or in what SF are calling for. its all part of the same process. one side has to win out.

ignoreing the national question while a compleately legitimate position to take if you don’t believe in a unitary state is conterproductive if you do. you may build an allience on the labour issue but it can only be in the context of the state as it is. if its not then at some point the issue has to be address and again the labour issue gets pulled in two seperate directions, its inevitable. think connolly called this dilema gas and water politics. if the issues are address in tandum then the oportunity for division is limited because an allience is on a more structured basis.


31. Garibaldy - April 16, 2010

I don’t think anyone who believes in a unitary state has ignored the national question. If you’re ultimate objective is clear, then I don’t see the need to go on about it all the time when there are more immediate issues to deal with.


32. CeasefireMagazine - April 16, 2010

@ Garibaldy (for some reason there was no reply button on your response). The oath is not meaningless, Lib Dem MP Andrew George once raised the issue of Cornwall’s constitutional basis for independence in the commons and was warned by the speaker that it was a violation of the oath to to question the “role, rights, powers and privileges” of the Duke of Cornwall because he is, of course, a member of the Royal Family. I don’t believe the oath taken for local government in the 80’s was to the Queen.

The issue of whether Civic Unionism or Civic Nationalism is a good idea is irrelevent because the SDLP dismissed a nationalist pact as sectarian because it involves two nationalist parties and made no reference to there’s being a more civic form of nationalism.

You’re absolutely right about South Belfast though, the fact that it has a Unionist majority, which i completely forgot about, would make a SDLP-Sinn Fein pact unfair gerrymandering- just as a TUV-UUP-DUP pact in F&ST is unfair gerrymandering – and should be criticised by the SDLP on this basis, not because it would be sectarian. However it would offer the nationalist community in South Belfast just as much choice because even though, as you say the two parties would dispute the fact that they’re as progressive as eachother, there is hardly any issue where one party can take the progressive high-ground. Even David Cameron calls the tories the progressive party, so what political parties think of themselves immaterial


33. Garibaldy - April 16, 2010


Thanks for the info on the Cornwall thing. I am fairly sure that somebody at some point in the Commons must have advocated a republic or Irish separation, but maybe not. I still think that the oath is meaningless in practical political terms, at least in regards to advocating Irish separation.

When there is no reply button under a comment, you hit the reply closest to it above. Took me ages to work that out.

The issue of civic unionism/nationalism was about whether the two were inherently sectarian or not, rather than specifically about this elecion. I’m not saying that it is a potent force in this election of anything. That would be silly obviously.

Even accepting the logic that the pacts wouldn’t be sectarian (and I don’t) I think a pact that denies people the chance to vote for a candidate who will take the seat in Westminister has questions to answer about whether it will boost democracy or not.


34. That riveting election to our East… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 20, 2010

[…] analysing the impacts at local level in the North (and Garibaldy asks a most pertinent question here), but in purely constitutional terms it is self-evident that the Conservatives would operate from a […]


35. Maskey’s Withdrawal from South Belfast « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 20, 2010

[…] no doubt that this move, clearly motivated as it is by the desire to protect the highly symbolic Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat, is a clever one. There is no doubt that there has been anger in Fermanagh/South Tyrone among many […]


36. The General Election in Northern Ireland: A Look in CLR’s Crystal Ball « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 28, 2010

[…] only nationalist seats in danger are those in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast, which has raised the issue of electoral pacts once more. Although Gerry Kelly […]


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