Pandora’s Box, Chaos theory and Fermanagh

Pandora’s Box was a box which contained all the bad things in the world and when opened released them. Now the term is often used for a dangerous and unpredictable set of things that can happen. I believe Chaos theory is a bit similar with the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane. Essentially this is about the unpredictability of complex systems. My final analogy is from Luke 14: 31-32Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.”
The news of a by election in Fermanagh has already been blogged by fair_deal here but I thought I would add my tuppence worth.
Both the main unionist parties (and indeed the TUV) have possible benefits from this election but also very considerable dangers.

The UUP are the ones who have forced this by election by refusing the DUP’s nomination of Thomas Hogg to replace the late Joseph Dodds. The UUP can point to the actions of the DUP in forcing the by election in Dromore as a precedent and say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. They may feel emboldened by their victory at Dromore and the Fermanagh UUP may feel that this is to an extent payback for previous occasion when they accused the DUP of supporting Jim Dixon and hence, vote splitting. In addition a good showing for the UUP might enable the Fermanagh UUP to argue that it should not be automatically assumed that any agreed unionist candidate at the next Westminster elections be the DUP’s Arlene Foster. Finally as Bertie Kerr said on Radio Ulster this morning, some of the objection was to Thomas Hogg as a candidate and he would have accepted a different DUP candidate.

All the above may be correct. However, the UUP need to remember that Arlene Foster did much better than Tom Elliott at the last Westminster election and that no matter how strong the UUP party is in Fermanagh, Fermanagh unionists seem to have swung fairly decisively towards the DUP in the most recent elections. In addition in Dromore the UUP vote actually fell, an inconvenient fact that the UUP tend to overlook. As such this is a high risk strategy and if the DUP win easily the UUP will be humiliated. Almost worse would be if the seat falls to SF which would allow the DUP to point out that the UUP had unnecessarily given away a unionist seat. This is not Dromore and is not a safe unionist area.

Of course opportunities and dangers also stalk the DUP. If they win the seat with Mr. Hogg they will have got one of their bright young members into a council seat at a young age. They will be able to say that with the changes made (getting rid of Paisley) the Dromore effect was temporary and has now gone away. If they loose the seat to SF then the will be able to point the accusatory finger at the UUP and pronounce the dreaded cry “vote splitters” something which might well play badly amongst Fermanagh unionists.

The DUP also have dangers, however. Everyone will look at their percentage of the vote compared to last time and look for slippage. If they loose to the UUP then it could be presented as a loosing trend and momentum bad or good can be very powerful. A SF victory might also have its own problems. The UUP would no doubt point out that had the DUP not been so stubborn as to insist on Mr. Hogg then co-option would have been fine. In fairness with Mr. Hogg apparently still at university it does seem slightly unusual to run him in a seat so far from where his studies keep him. Equally of course the DUP can point out that it is not for the UUP to choose DUP representatives.

The TUV also have opportunities. If they run and do even relatively well it is evidence that Dromore was not a one off and is a further opportunity to gather momentum. They are, however, also open to the charge of vote splitting and as such standing to one side on this occasion and calling for their supporters to vote for either the DUP or UUP (as they wish) might be a wise strategy. Again though one of the most important purposes of a political party is to fight elections and this would be an election which the TUV did not call. In such a set of circumstances it would be a bit rich for the two parties who caused the election (the UUP by blocking Hogg’s co-option and the DUP by insisting on Hogg) to accuse the TUV of being vote splitters who would hand the seat to SF.

Although I am not well placed to comment on nationalism SF and the SDLP also have possible benefits and dangers. SF might well pick up a seat here which would be very useful to them. Especially after the recent resignations of SF councillors in Fermanagh it would help steady any nerves which might exist within the local party. It would be a useful guide that Gildernew could easily hold F/ST possibly even against an agreed unionist candidate. However, Fermanagh does seem to be where much of the republican discontent with the agreement centres. As such there are dangers: a fall in the SF vote would be a set back and again that momentum thing is important.

Even the SDLP have possible opportunities and dangers. A decent showing would demonstrate that they are not irrelevant and might help galvanise Durkans’ currently rather lack lustre leadership. It would help to reduce the appearance of the South Down and Londonderry Party. Conversely of course a poor showing would be seen as further proof of that same problem.

Overall this is an election which is so unpredictable and has so many possible variables that anyone could gain or lose from it. As I alluded above before from the Bible, before embarking on a battle a wise person should decide whether or not it is a winnable one. In this case I do not think anyone can be remotely confident of victory. In such an unpredictable situation one might wonder why the DUP and UUP did not come to some sort of compromise. If either genuinely wanted an election I suspect that they are most foolish. The fact that they could not agree a compromise seems to suggest that relationships between them have reached a new low. In such a case where now Peter Robinson’s desire for unionist unity?

I have just heard that Thomas Hogg will not now be running for this seat. That of course raises a number of interesting questions including whether or not the UUP can “Deobject” to a DUP co-option.

  • Rory

    Spelling a bit “loose” there, Turgon. Be careful, such small errors can end in one losing the argument.

  • joeCanuck

    Interesting well thought out analysis, Turgon.

    Personally I’d prefer a system of co-option to save the ratepayers’ purses. It’s usually for such a short period of time, an election would seem to be an unwise and unnecessary expenditure.

  • interested

    Surely the issue about the DUP “demanding” to have its own candidates is tricky for the UUP to criticise.

    After all, isn’t that why the election was forced in Dromore, because the UUP felt they shouldn’t be dictated to by the DUP as to who their candidate was.

    Just about all of the issues which the UUP criticised the DUP for (possibly rightly in some instances) they are now repeating themselves.

    The DUP may well have suffered from a degree of arrogance, and if anything at least Dromore put paid to that. However, on the flip-side, if there’s one place in the Province where the UUP were and still are arrogant and believe they have a divine right to get votes then that is in Fermanagh.

  • Morlock

    It is good to see that the DUP is willing to promote their young Queens Chairman, even if he does have somewhat of a reputation. It was also rumoured that the DUP were trying to poach the former UUP chairman at Queens Mr Cairns for a council seat in Antrim. Will have to wait and see what way everything turns out for Mr Hogg and the unionist vote in Fermanagh.

  • Bigger Picture


    A well thought out piece of analysis, watch out fair_deal!!

    I just have one thought to add,

    “The TUV also have opportunities… (however)standing to one side on this occasion and calling for their supporters to vote for either the DUP or UUP (as they wish) might be a wise strategy”

    That would probably be ideal for the TUV however are they then not open to the charge that people in Enniskillen will not be given the opportunity of voicing their anger at the DUP a la Dromore?

  • Basil Brush

    The TUV could decide where this seat goes.If they stand the Shinners will probably gain the seat if not a Unionist may gain it however with the Unionist/Nationalist margin so tight here anything could happen.Maybe even an Independent Nationalist will run.That would realyy make things interesting.

  • Basil Brush

    The TUV could decide where this seat goes.If they stand the Shinners will probably gain the seat if not a Unionist may gain it however with the Unionist/Nationalist margin so tight here anything could happen.Maybe even an Independent Nationalist will run.That would realyy make things interesting.

  • Delta Omega

    Given that this will be a PR election, it is not the number of parties involved (i.e. whether or not TUV put up a candidate) but how the votes transfer between candidates that will determine this result.

  • Turgon,

    They [the TUV] are, however, also open to the charge of vote splitting and as such standing to one side on this occasion and calling for their supporters to vote for either the DUP or UUP (as they wish) might be a wise strategy.

    It’s an STV election, so vote-splitting is not an issue. The TUV can stand (to measure the level of their own support), and still encourage their voters to transfer to the DUP and/or UUP when the TUV candidate is eliminated.

    Vote-splitting is only an issue in FPTP elections.

  • Mike C

    Surely the last thing to come out of Pandora’s Box was Hope.

  • An Lochlannach

    I enjoyed Turgon’s article very much – clear & well-written. I’m glad to see that he mentioned the SDLP and what the future has in store for them. Hopes of Fianna Fail riding north like the 7th Calvary seem more distant than ever, according to some sources:

  • ulsterfan

    Perhaps The UU are thinking one step ahead.
    Oppose DUP now hoping to give them a “bloody nose” so that at the next Westminster election their hand is strengthened in choosing an agreed candidate.
    A little revenge would not be out of place.

  • El Paso

    A well written informative piece Turgon. Didn’t realise Durkan was still involved in politics.

  • Truth

    Thats an interesting piece and i think the Sinn Fein vote will also be one to watch. Sinn Fein have lost alot of members and Cllrs in Fermanagh over the last 18 months mostly due to policing. Bernice Swift is the latest to resign after an 8 month suspension from the party over comments she made regarding the Dpp’s.

  • Fermanagh Election Watcher

    DUP will have a good bielection as will the SF. Fermanagh discontent on the DUP side is minimal. In Fermanagh, TUV represent even fewer than the SF dissidents do. There isn’t that hardcore DUP support that there is in Antrim. On past figures, SF could well the seat. However, I don’t think that they will since the DUP will capitalise on UUP fall-out over calling the election on the death of someone and fears that seat would fall to Republicans.
    SF vote will remain solid although turnout is tricky. Turnout for Nationalists in Enniskillen is 10% lower than for Unionists although the party’s bread-and-butter profile has been raised in the town over the last year and this might have some impact.
    This is going to be a head to head between DUP and SF. The only other unknown factor is the strength of the candidates which could give DUP more problems than they might otherwise be expected to get. Hogg does not appear popular.
    Lastly, this bielection will expose the minimal support McHugh and other defectors have on the ground. They may not run a candidate but if they did it would be humiliating for them – a re-run of McGeough’s vote in the town.

  • Rory

    The speculation that “Hopes of Fianna Fail riding north like the 7th Calvary (sic)” might “seem more distant than ever” may perhaps have something to do with a sudden recall within the ranks of FF advisers as to the fate of the 7th Cavalry on the last occasion it rode out to take on the native hostiles.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    if there is a SF victory the debate will centre on who let the bad guys get the seat – whichever Unioinst party is largest (smart money is on DUP?) will presumably be able to blame the others (UU and TUV). Someone must have told wee Reggie they had a good chance otherwise it looks like further consolidating their demise. TUV and Dissident Republicans will probably not stand to avoid a damn good thrashing – and it will be interesting to see what reason is offered by them – though easy enough for TUV to say they were stopping SF.

  • I don’t think the TUV can ‘stand aside’. Their only chance of maintaining relevance and visibility is by putting forward candidates in this type of situation and trying to upset the unionist apple cart. How else can they advance their agenda? If they stand aside, it would be a signal to unionist voters that they are not a credible force.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    There would be one thing worse for the TUV than to send a “signal to unionist voters that they are not a credible force” and that would be actual confirmation that they are not a credible force.

    Tactically they should wait a while for a seat like Dromore – not one split evenly between Nationalists and Unioinsts. Their best bet is to sit on their hands and hope Robbo trips up on an issue (Police and Justice?) in the meantime.

    in you slugger capacity alone what think you?

  • Again I repeat: the by-election is run according to STV. There is therefore no sense whatsoever in any party ‘standing aside’ – in fact it could be counter-productive if it discourages that party’s core support from coming out on the day.

    The TUV should stand (as should all others), and if it wants to prove its ‘unionist solidarity’ it can loudly encourage its supporters to give their No 2 and No 3 to the other unionist candidates. That way no unionist vote goes unused in the end.

    If the TUV do ‘stand aside’ it will be because they are afraid of the shame that a miserable performance will bring on them. It may, ultimately, herald their end. On the other hand, if they do stand and do badly, that may also herald their end. Between a rock and a hard place, so they are! But then Northern Ireland has never been a kind place to micro-parties.

  • Carrie Bradshaw

    so who exactly will contest this election?

    Any chance of a candidate from the greens ad allaince as seen at dromore? perhaps Stephen Farry could make a comeback to Fermanagh politics as Alliance candidate here.

    I assume other quasiminor parties such as the Tories or Finna Fail won’t be arsed.

    but what about dissident republicans?

  • truth

    fermanagh election watcher “SF vote will remain solid although turnout is tricky”

    I would disagree with you on that account, alot of Sinn Fein members and elected Cllrs have left the party recently and this will have an effect on the Sinn Fein vote this time. The gerry Mcgough election seems along time ago and alot of things have changed since then, Republicans are starting to see through the farce and lies Sinn Fein were telling them. I predict that Sinn Fein will face a challenge in this election and with the right candidate i believe they will out poll Sinn Fein. Enniskillen is somewhere Sinn Fein havent very many members and will have to flood the town with outsiders. Three elected representives have left in over 12 months thats a third of the elected Sinn Fein team in the council. Then take the amount of party members right across the county and it adds up, their are areas where the whole Sinn Fein cumann resigned over policing and they havent been replaced, this is something that Sinn Fein are trying to keep quiet, but the recent resignation of a high profile Councillor like Bernice Swift shows there are major problems in Sinn Fein and especially in Fermanagh.

  • “the whole Sinn Fein cumann resigned over policing”

    Was it just a matter of policing or did the ‘bossing’ from HQ also play a part?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    surley any SF lost votes as a result of moving into ‘moderate’ territory on police will be compensated for by gaining otherwise potential SDLP voters.

    A candidate objecting to SF on police would be very interesting especially in this constituency – and I suspect that Nationalsits realise that there is only 1 way on police – especially with the DUP ‘poised’ to agree the transfer of Police and Justice – any anti-SF candidate will need a better issue than this to fight on.

    Many republicans probably agree with the disident sentiment on this but just like for Unioinsts with the TUV the vast majority of people do not want to take a chance of helping a fairly fragile peace unravel and realise compromise is the way forward.

  • Turgon

    It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it,

    Thank you for the question, sorry it took a while to get back but I was busy doing real work (a bit annoying).

    Re your question on the TUV standing, I think it is a difficult one. My initial reaction was that as it is a political party it should stand. However, that leaves open the charge (unfair or not) of vote splitting which is seen as a major crime amongst Fermanagh unionists. I am still undecided on the merits of standing / not standing.


    You are technically correct re vote splitting. However, the reality is that people do not transfer all the time and as such in practical terms although vote splitting is less of a problem in an STV election it still can reduce teh chances of a given block in a two block election winning.

  • truth

    The policing was that last straw for a lot of Republicans, and at least 3 cumainn in west Fermanagh resigned. The leadership coming in and trying to bully people and push lies down there throats didn’t help either it just proved to us that that we were right.
    Sammy McNally-
    I don’t think people should define any candidate that stands against Sinn Fein as just an anti policing candidate, Sinn Fein cannot claim to be Republican any more the policing is just one issue that republicans object to, they have removed themselves from community politics and socialism in general. Sinn Fein are now part of a system which is implementing right wing policies, water charges, pps14 rubber stamped, no Irish language act, a u turn on education. While Sinn Fein isn’t in control of some of these departments they are in a coalition government and therefore partners. On a civil and human rights level Sinn Fein’s partners in government the DUP voted in force all 9 MP’S in favour of 42 day detention, this is madness how can Sinn Fein justify this? The civil liberties of millions in England, Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland were destroyed by the votes of Sinn Fein’s partners in Government? These are just some issues and Sinn Fein need to be challenged and exposed on, and the only place for that is the through elections. Martin McGuinness travelling to Iraq to talk about peace when a few weeks ago he welcomed with opened arms GEORGE BUSH the man who ordered the invasion and caused the war in Iraq how can Sinn Fein Justify this? Republicanism isn’t defined by Sinn Fein any more they have betrayed everything Republicanism stands for.

  • fenian bastard

    Where’s sammy morse when u need him?

    fenian bastards living near the border are getting fed up of it.