I do not live in West Belfast nor am I a native of the area, though I consider that I know the area quite well. Now, at the last assembly election Sinn Féin won 69.9% in West Belfast, a considerable democratic mandate.
In the context of a few conversations I have had recently with young people who are solidly anti-Sinn Féin and I have come across some attitudes which whilst understandable in terms of being anti-Sinn Féin, I find incompatible with democratic values.
The attitude can be expressed thus, the people are blind, brainwashed and stupid. They cannot see what Sinn Féin is and therefore Sinn Féins mandate is void.
I disagree. The peoples choice must always be respected – until the next election. People are not stupid, they are not blind, they are not brainwashed in my view.
Of course some will argue that I am blind, brainwashed and stupid.
However, I detest this level of patronising disrespect for a community especially if it is in the name of the community, a word, like culture I try to avoid as we have robbed them of all sense and reason.
I have also come across the view that the community sector is in constant (and understandable?) conflict with politicians. I for one however, am glad that some control is played on this sector by democratically elected politicians and I make no apologies for it, the person I vote for is who speaks for me. Getting elected is more work than getting a job in the sector.
And given that 69.9% of the vote goes to SF, I would expect a similar percentage of SF supporters to be employed in that sector and in my experience, non-SF supporters are very well represented in the community sector.
I ask those whose priority is to lessen Sinn Féin influence – what do they want? All political influence removed from the community? How would lobbing operate? How would we ensure that the weight of democratic opinion is respected?
Or do we simply have to wait for people not to vote Sinn Féin?
In my view, if the community sector is to rule the roost then democracy, however imperfect, would be mitigated in favour of the rule of the intelligentsia. This is a wrong and dangerous road to go down.
On another small point, in much of the traditional Irish language movement (and the sector) there has traditionally been a tendency to prioritise keeping the Shinners out even to the extent that capable and dedicated activists are kept out of organisation and to the effect that effectiveness is sacrificed. I think it is a bit silly to say to 69.9% of the people of West Belfast, look we dont want you, but hey, I am so blind I dont even realise I am brainswashed into thinking I am not stupid!
As a final point I often hear but the people have no choice! Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.
I have often suggested voting for the SDLP as a devils advocate, something I would never do, apart from a preference for an individual candidate I personally respect, that idea is scoffed at as being simply ridiculous but 12.2% did just that at the last election.
The people have a choice, vote for some-one else, stand for election, form a political party, form a pressure group. Look at Éirigí for example, I disagree with their politics but at least they are organising.
The one thing I would never advocate is spoiling your vote, which in my view is pointless and morally wrong.