All parties have a common enemy: apathy!

Davy Adams has an analysis (subs needed) on the former incumbent parties of Nationalism and Unionism. Whilst in the SDLP he sees solid reorganisation, and the beginning of a distinctive identity, he reckons the UUP have continued to struggle with some of the basics.

On the nationalist side, and perhaps of some comfort to the UUP, the SDLP’s gradual recovery looks set to continue, with the party at least holding its own and maybe even closing the gap a little on Sinn Féin.

Under Mark Durkan’s leadership there has been a much-needed major overhaul of SDLP party structures, resulting in better internal management and improved relationships with local communities.

More overtly, a continual pointing up of Sinn Féin’s lack of original ideas and questionable negotiating skills has reminded people that the SDLP remains the intellectual engine of nationalism. Whatever the spin and gloss from Sinn Féin, it is becoming increasingly difficult for republicans to counter the charge that they simply follow a path already trodden by their nationalist opponents.

It has been, and to some extent will continue to be, a hard slog back for the SDLP, but at least there is light on the horizon.

However, all the parties are likely to struggle against what looks like being a very low turn out. The answer, Adams suggests, goes back to the basic question of why we are having it in the first place:

A major problem, and primary cause of public apathy, is the fact that people are not sure why we are having an election. It can hardly be argued that it is to endorse the so-called St Andrews Agreement. Every party, including the DUP and Sinn Féin, has distanced itself from that agreement by pointing out that only the two governments have ownership of it. Besides, a referendum, not a party election, is the only democratic way of gauging public support for a new initiative.

But, of course, a referendum would not suit the DUP. They could not permit any “fairer deal” that they were even remotely associated with to be put directly to the Northern Ireland people: no new arrangement could ever hope to win anything like the public support (72 per cent of an 81 per cent turnout) afforded to the Belfast Agreement they supposedly despise.

Ostensibly, this election is to determine the make-up of an Assembly and executive. Yet there is no guarantee that a new Assembly will meet, never mind agree to form an executive. The British government acceded to the DUP demand for an election, thinking that it wanted to seek electoral approval for sharing power with Sinn Féin.

  • parcifal

    I’d say more resignation than apathy; people know the Assembly is going to happen, and its much of a muchness how one actually votes.

  • Henry94

    Let’s not forget principled abstention.

  • Crataegus

    The last 4 years has done lasting damage to both the Assembly as an institution and the political class generally.

    What I am hearing is why bother voting, whats the point, what difference will it make?

    I must confess considerable sympathy for such opinion. No matte how I vote there will be an Executive comprising of the DUP, SF, SDLP and UUP and I have not the slightest idea what the policy of that Executive will be.

  • Greenflag


    ‘No matte how I vote there will be an Executive comprising of the DUP, SF, SDLP and UUP and I have not the slightest idea what the policy of that Executive will be. ‘

    Indeed . This is one election in which the opposition(s) will be elected into Government –
    assuming of course that it gets that far . There’s a good chance it may not .

  • John Farrell

    It seems to me that SDLP ism is looking a lot healthier than UUP ism.
    The SDLP seems to have a fair share of party hacks (various Bradleys, Ramsey, Kelly, Burns, Ritchie etc) but also seems to have the makings (at last of a new generation in Haughey and well er thats it)…..but at least it has stopped the rot. Still a long way from its glory days in the early 1970s.
    Passed thru Lisburn as usual yesterday. Poster of Billy Bell and Ronnie Crawford. The net effect of these posters is to elect the running mate McCrea, their running mate.
    Precious little dynamism about Bell, Crawford, Hatch, Savage, Gardiner, Armstrong, Rodgers, Coulter.
    On a broader front where does Unionism actually go.
    Under Carson they gave up Rathmines and Trinity College.
    Under Craig Monaghan Cavan and Donegal went.
    From the 1970s the West (Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry have gone.
    And if I remember correctly back in 1973 (thanks to abstentionism) nationalists only controlled Derry, Down and Newry councils.
    Since then successive elections have seen Nationalists take Strabane, Omagh, Magherafelt, Limavady, Fermanagh and Cookstown.
    Breakthroughs for Nationalism flukily in East Antrim, South Belfast and becoming occasional mayors of Belfast.
    Scarecely a council election goes by without something ground breaking happening. SF seats in Ballymena and Banbridge.
    And where does Unionism go? Rejecting everything it retreats until the point where it seems to dominate two fields in Broughshane.
    And rallys round a political party dominated by an effectively exclusive “saved” religious sect. Within that party there are “realists” (sheesh) and “purists” and lurking outside the certifiably insane like Cedric Wilson and Davey Calvert.
    Where next?
    Settling down into government with the mortal enemy. Withdrawing into isolation. Or trying to find some kind of a common ground.
    Either way, Church of Ireland, Methodist and most Presbyterian types are out of the power loop not to mention the secular Unionists who are going to have even longer hours in the garden centres.

    It is the end game.
    The last days in the Bunker.
    The night they drove old Dixie Down.

    Step forward Chris Stalford, your hour has come.

  • jamestwo

    Two thirds (67%)of NI Protestants live within 50 miles of Belfast city hall. Almost 60% of NI Catholics live within 50 miles of Belfast city hall. They of course are Catholics in an all-Ireland sea of Catholics. The NI Protestants are dwindling in absolute terms and have effectively permanently lost their majority and all political positions in very large areas of NI. .Why does that matter? Because the very existence of NI is based on the fact of a Protestant majority. It is a simple fact (see CAIN maps) that Protestants in NI are in a majority in about one third of the land area of NI. And they are very concentrated around Belfast Lough. In all Ireland terms NI Protestants are now 14% of the population. At partition they were 23%. Their position in a notional UI would be weak and getting weaker. Hardly a persuasive image for Unionists ! Repartition is coming. It is the only option. Antrim , North Down , North Armagh , East Derry. That is the NI of the future.

  • Crataegus

    As a matter of interest does anyone have the figures for how the percentage of catholics in Ireland has faired over this last 40 years? Or how the figure for non Christians is moving, or people of no faith or Poles or those of Chinese decent? Why do we keep getting stuck in the old two track model when the reality is in truth more complex.

    If you want conflict then simplify to them and us but in reality it is increasingly them and them and them. Ireland isn’t what it used to be and the change is accelerating.

  • DMCM

    In response to John Farrell’s assumption that Sharon Haughey is the only young up and coming candidate I tend to differ. There are hords of already elected young members within the SDLP who in time will be selected to run for more senior positions.

  • John Farrell

    DMCM……no doubt the SDLP has up and coming folks but perhaps a good way of bringing them on would be for the old timers (some nearly as old as I am) to stand down.

    Sharon Haughey is one of the few to have made the ballot paper this time round.

    Take South Belfast……thrusting dynamic Carmel Hanna paired with equally youhful McConnell
    North Belfast….Convery Maginnis
    West Belfast….Walsh.Attwood.
    East Belfast……mary Muldoon.

    now I am guessing here that none of these people are under 45. In all of Belfast?
    Foyle……Durkin, Ramsey, Bradley, Quigley (I dont know Quigley but guessing Durkin is 45 ish and the youngest)
    West Tyrone…..McMenamin Deehan and Shiels are prolly over 55
    Mid Ulster…..McGlone (dont know Lagan but shes a youngster I hope).
    East Derry……Dallat over 50…….Beattie maybe young I dunno
    But Fermanagh South Tyrone……..Currie is probably 93 and Gallagher is 87.
    But are Beattie and Lagan actually gonna take the SDLP quota.

    The point here is that in 2011, these people will be older and the SDLP looks a bit tired already.

    Im sure there is a new generation out there…..but NOW ..not 2011 is time to introduce them into the system.

  • glambam

    Orla Beattie is actually very young John – I think in her 20’s and the SDLP also have a new and up and coming rep in Orla Black (30 I think) who is standing along with Declan O Loan in North Antrim.

    The SDLP have the potential to have a very good future ahead of them if these young two girls stick with them along with the likes of Sharon Haughey.

    Both of the Orlas have not had as good publicity as Sharon but I hear both are intelligent young and glamorous just like Sharon and some feel that they are not getting their fair share of promotion within the party.

    If they want to keep them on board they need to start giving them opportunities as well as others like Mealla Bratton in Armagh.

    Both girls may well poll highly in this election especially Orla Black who Sammy Morse has even said has popularity well beyond her party label.

    There are rumours abound that even the Shinners would welcome Orla Black with open arms.

  • PeteW

    Folks – A more than optimistic message from the UUP’s Chairman.

    To: All Ulster Unionist Candidates

    On behalf of the Party Executive, and for myself, I wish to thank you for representing our Party in these important elections and for all the hard work you have put in to the campaign.

    Whatever the outcome, we have demonstrated a unity of message and purpose that has been absent for some time, and I believe the electorate will respond and start to come back to us.

    Please accept my very best wishes for polling day and the count, and I hope to welcome you into our Assembly team.


  • SuperSoupy

    Voter apathy was not an issue for SF or APNI. both increased their vote in real and % terms from 2005.