Sammy Morse on, Fermanagh South Tyrone…

Towards the end of lastnight’s podcast, Sammy gets in with a few incisive remarks with Gerry McGeough. Unsurprisingly, as he was fresh from writing up his analysis on McGeough’s constituency, Fermanagh South Tyrone. It’s worth kicking off with his acute reading of the demography of the rural part of the county, since it demonstrates just how separate people’s lives are, one community from the other:

FST has a clear, but not overwhelming, Catholic majority (55.6% Catholic, 43.1% Protestant in the 2001 Census). The major towns tend to more Catholic than the rural areas, although there are exceptions. The Catholic population is 58% in Dungannon itself, 62% in Enniskillen, 74% in Lisnaskea, 3% in Ballinamallard, 75% in Irvinestown, 25% in Fivemiletown, 7% in Lisbellaw, 69% in Moy, 91% in Newtownbutler, 98% in Roslea, 12% in Kesh, 82% in Ballygawley, 45% in Aughnacloy, 69% in Tempo and 88% in Belleek. The Protestant population tends to be in a majority in rural areas of the Blackwater and Clogher Valleys, East Dungannon, Moygashel and in North and Central Fermanagh outside the towns of Irvinestown and Tempo. South and West Fermanagh have a Catholic majority of roughly 3:1.

I’ve an inkling that things were not so crystalline at the beginning of the troubles, which has seen a long slow drift of Protestants from isolated rural areas into places like Ballinamallard and Kesh, though I’m sure I can be corrected on that. The one time stronghold of Ulster Unionism was effectively overturned by the defection of one its most able and articulate women politicians, Arlene Foster:

Last time, the UUP and Sinn Féin each elected two MLAs, with the DUP and SDLP returning one each. Those blocs looked so stable that it would have taken an earthquake to shift them this time – for example, the battle for the last seat in 2003 was between Sinn Féin colleagues Tom O’Reilly and Gerry McHugh, always a sign of a constituency where seats are not likely change hands. That earthquake happened, however, when Arlene Foster MLA defected to the DUP.

Since then, the DUP have outpolled the UUP comfortably in the Westminster election, probably aided by tactical voting, and by a narrower margin of 25.0% to 21.7% in the simultaneous local elections. The combined Unionist vote in recent years has consistently been within a few hundred votes of 47%, so there are three clear Unionist quotas here. Clearly, the odds favour the DUP taking two seats, although there are theoretical circumstances in which both UUP candidates might just slip through the middle.

On Bob McCartney’s challenge he notes that “…this area has always proven less fertile territory for anti-agreement candidates than Mid Ulster or points further east”.

On the Nationalist side, he reckons the SDLP are good for a safe single seat, even though they are running two, from each end of the constituency, sitting Fermanagh based MLA Gerry Gallagher and Dungannon Town councillor Vincent Currie. Sinn Fein are running three. The real question is to what degree do McGeough and Republican Sinn Fein pose a threat:

The most high profile is Gerry McGeough, a former IRA gunrunner who has left the orthodox republican movement. While policing may be part of the reason, the more important is that he views the Sinn Féin leadership as being irredeemably liberal-leftist and anti-Catholic. McGeough is an old fashioned clerical right-winger who is opposed to abortion, homosexuality and immigration. While there is, of course, a conservative Catholic section of the electorate in FST, I personally doubt these issues have the salience in Northern Ireland that they do elsewhere. Sectarian conflict is far more important.

In any case, he must build a constituency organisation from scratch, and that may not be easy when his views will alienate activists of hard-left views who might otherwise support an anti-policing platform. Running on a more conventional hard-republican platform is Michael McManus, an ex-IRA prisoner from Lisnaskea who left Sinn Féin along with Ó Brádaigh in 1986. South Fermanagh is something of a stronghold, in relative terms, for RSF and they will at least have something of a membership base to start from.

Although Fermanagh has had a certain tradition of non-aligned Republicans from Frank Maguire to Dessie McPhilips, the six seats seem tightly locked up by other parties. Having two candidates to the right of Sinn Féin makes it more difficult to solidify the anti-policing vote, and in any case the Republican base here is smaller than in Mid Ulster or South Armagh. If there is an anti-leadership wave, FST is probably third in the list of constituencies that would elect an anti-policing Republican. However, given the balance of other parties and their transfer repellance, they would probably need almost full quota to do so.

  • To be fair Mick, a lot of the country districts are more mixed than the towns – take the area where Gerry McGeough comes from, for example.

    There are also plenty of towns which are mixed enough and enjoy very good community relations despite having a definite majority from one side of the community or another – Fivemiletown, Tempo and Irvinestown all spring to mind, for example. The retreat of Prods into Kesh, Lisbellaw and Ballinamallard is real enough, though. Even then, the segregation at a micro level isn’t anything like as extreme as in East Tyrone or South Derry, let alone Belfast and Derry City.

  • páid

    Excellent work Sammy.

    But on your remark that my description of this “election” as nothing more than the usual sectarian headcount was “20 years out of date”,
    can you point out any significant shift in voting intentions of either community from 20 years ago.

    Or 80 years ago.

    Any catholics voting DUP for instance because of their environmentally friendly policy on water rates?
    Any protestants voting SDLP because of their primary health care policy?

    It’s fascinating to watch the trees come in and out of season, die and regenerate, but don’t forget you’re in the wood.

  • Páid – I think we’re talking at cross purposes here. I was talking to someone else who said Alliance people got lots of NIO Quango jobs.

  • Greenflag

    Excellent analysis Sammy .Gerry McGeough came across well and should poll well but whether enough to win a seat is problematic . Interesting that McGeough wants to refocus nationalists and republicans on a UI however he sounds almost totally oblivious to the constitutional preference of Unionists . Perhaps it’s a west of the Bann thing ? Interesting that he’s looking forward to the District councils as a launching pad for his UI approach . McGeough may be the first mainstream (As he terms himself) republican to realise that a UI is not likely any time soon if ever and thus ‘repartition’ is the best bet for his ‘people’ west of the Bann to rejoin their ‘country’.

  • east tyrone remembers

    I am glad that someone is finally taking a stance and standing up for the true republican ideal. I can’t understand why RSF are running a candidate it will only split the anti Sf vote I wonder who is pulling RSF’s strings these days now David Rupert has been exposed…. RSF are not even canvassing on the ground why are they even standing surely it is political suicide it will only let everyone know how LITTLE support they have..Vote for Gerry McGeough he’s the only Republican canditate with any credibility.

  • east tyrone remembers
  • John Farrell

    All seats are safe with just changes in personnel.

    Sinn Fein 2
    DUP 2
    SDLP 1
    UUP 1

    If RSF made no impact with abstentionism in nearly 20 years since the split, I cant see a big impact since policing policy.
    McGeough is in polite terms a “political maverick” or less politely a “raving nutter”.

    McHugh lost out to O’Reilly and O’Reilly rapidly went on to become a household name….in his own household.
    So McHugh will take the second seat esp as Sinn Fein has allocated him some extra areas.
    SDLP….safe seat but isnt it a shame they cant find someone from a younger generation as Currie and Gallagher are a bit past sell by date. Not that its a bad thing…..Im past my sell by date also.
    Gallagher since Farren, Lewsley, Denis Haughey Hendron etc have fallen by wayside now is about 6 or 7 in hierarchy……pity that the party that once was so dynamic looks frail in at least some parts of the North.
    DUP……well Foster is safe of course. But hopefully Morrow will suffer thru vote management. Sorry but I just dont like him.

    UUp safe seat.

  • IJP

    McGeough isn’t standing for traditional Republicanism at all.

    He’s standing for traditional Irish Nationalism.

    Demand Irish unity as if it’s a right regardless of consent, pretend segregation and sectarianism are all the Brits’ fault as if they didn’t exist in 1920, make some shallow remark about how you can’t have a hospital in Aughnacloy because there’s a border nearby… but objectively, none of it actually makes sense – in contrast to Irish Republicanism, which does.

  • So McHugh will take the second seat esp as Sinn Fein has allocated him some extra areas.

    I didn’t know Gerry had been allocated extra areas – glad to see people can learn from their mistakes. Gerry is one of the few Shinners who has a clue about agricultural issues (not that I’d be too au fait with things there myself.

    Remember though, that Seán Lynch is a different person to O’Reilly. I didn’t realise he was that Séan Lynch until I read his profile on the Chuck election website.

  • lapsedmethodist

    The Irish don’t do salient. There was precious little salience in McDowells race card referendum. A few ethnic Nigerian babies born in Dublin and he got a big turnout and 80% in favour of his proposal. How much better will McGeough do when his voters will be able to cloak their rascism and sectarianism with ” true republicanism” ?

  • George

    lapsedmethodist,
    I was against the referendum but why was it a race card referendum to change Ireland’s citizenship laws to come into line with the rest of Europe?

    I would have preferred the other 24 to change to our way but that didn’t happen and the Chen case in Belfast made things untenable for many.

    What was racist in the proposal? Or are you saying all European countries are racist?

    The only difference between Ireland and the rest was that a referendum was actually needed before legislation could be enacted.

    Also on race card, Labour opposed the referendum and not so long ago party leader Pat Rabbitte came out with his 40 million Polish plumbers jibe.

    I’ m no fan of McDowell but he stood firm on keeping the door open when Labour and Fine Gael buckled.

    To put things in perspective, per capita Ireland has taken in more immigrants in the last three years than the UK has in the last 40.

    On topic, really insightful post.

    McGeough, I sincerely hope he doesn’t get elected. For his sake there better not be a united Ireland because he’ll get an awful landski.

  • páid

    Hey IJP, at last a fellow believer!

    Yes folks, this election is the start of the ‘fenian crossover’.

    When clever, farseeing folk such as myself and IJP point out that, contrary to perceived wisdom, Irish Nationalism is an older, deadlier, greener and more potent set of beliefs than Irish Republicanism.

  • Wilde Rover

    “How much better will McGeough do when his voters will be able to cloak their rascism and sectarianism with “ true republicanism” ?

    The constitutional cloak is a catalyst for self-deception. I am sure people in favour of the Jeffrey Donaldson backed move to protect a No Queers policy thought they were defending the UK.

    Externally, however, people in the south are too busy building the New Republic to even find the time to laugh at the Time Warp Oirland on offer from McGeough, (and in fairness the Neo-Marxist Utopists aren’t exactly on the ball either).

    And I have yet to meet the English person who doesn’t cringe at the Victorian Britain being promoted in their name by some unionists.

  • Rubicon

    Mick, “sitting Fermanagh based MLA Gerry Gallagher” I believe should be Tommy Gallagher.

  • lapsedmethodist

    George: I’m sure it was a rascist referendum because I’m a black prod married to a black Indian. All our neighbours down here were very quick to console us that ” we don’t mean you ”
    You don’t hand out ceremonial daggers at an Old Firms match now, do ye!