Is it excusable for party leaders to castigate political rivals for ‘splitting’ the vote?

What is it about politicians in Northern Ireland that they will not seriously confront racism, bigotry and sectarianism? How can any politician who promotes the notion of ‘a sectarian head count’ in either community convince thinking people that he or she is serious about standing up to sectarianism?

At the heart of the Conservative party’s explanation for aligning with the Ulster Unionist party is the claim that they want to bring ‘normality’ to politics here. Does anyone believe that the Tories’ understanding of normality is based on a sectarian head count? Logically then —Ulster Unionists cannot do electoral pacts with the DUP in South Belfast or in Fermanagh/South Tyrone to keep nationalists from winning either seat..

It is unthinkable and rightly so that any member of the SDLP should suggest that that party should strike a deal with Sinn Fein to stop a Unionist from winning any seat. It was Enoch Powell who proposed a ‘Speaker’s Conference’ to enhance Northern Ireland’s political representation at Westminster.

John Hume and Seamus Mallon were eventually joined by Joe Hendron and Eddie Mc Grady at Westminster. I recall Ulster Unionists challenging Mr. Powell at a party conference in Newcastle on his contention that what he had done was “good” for Northern Ireland. “That’s democracy ” retorted Powell. Powell’s definition of democracy was ‘a poisoned chalice’ as far as some Ulster Unionists were concerned.

I have covered two party conferences in the past month. Did any individual at either conference lead the campaign against sectarianism? Was this subject thematic in speeches at either conference?

Sadly – no..