The battle in the Dreary Steeples

Elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone can be pretty grim affairs with the spectre of the sectarian head count never far away. There is a certain inevitability in this due to the relatively closely balanced sizes of the two communities and the fact that during the Troubles and indeed the Border Campaign, right back to the 1920s; Fermanagh and the neighbouring parts of Tyrone were stalked by terrorism. Throughout the constituency’s recent history there have been frequent pacts from one side or the other. Michelle Gildernew has held the seat now for two terms and until the agreed unionist candidate was finally settled, it seemed inevitable that she would win for a third time. With Rodney Connor emerging as the united unionist candidate this certainty has evaporated and there is a real chance that the seat could revert to unionists.

Connor is a genuinely good candidate: originally from Castlederg (hopefully Fermanagh people will not hold that against him) and the former chief executive of Fermanagh council, in which post he had a track record of serving the whole community to a very high standard. It is difficult to characterise him as a bigot or a narrow sectional candidate. He has made a major issue of the need FST has for full time representation at Westminster and has been at pains to pledge to be a champion for the whole community.

Connor, having lived most of his life in Fermanagh and Tyrone must, however, know that however hard he tries to be an inclusive candidate and no matter how hard he works for the whole community if he is elected, the reality is that he is likely to gain the support of the overwhelming majority of unionist vote and very little of the nationalist vote. No matter how hard Rodney Connor tries and no matter how personally inclusive he is the simple fact is that this vote will come very close to the sectarian head counts of the past. The bitterness may be a little less than the infamous elections of 1981 but only in degree; it will undoubtedly still be there.

Sinn Fein have already shamelessly tried to make this a straight sectarian fight. In any other context it might be amusing for Michelle Gildernew to denounce Rodney Connor as “the sectarian candidate” and then go on to demand that the SDLP stand aside in order to make the fight a straight head count. If Rodney Connor was standing against a moderate nationalist there might be a degree of truth in her allegations. Rather Gildernew is the non representative of the people of FST at Westminster; she is the one who cannot stomach even attending the parliament to which she has been elected. More than that, however, to understand the sheer hypocrisy of Gildernew in calling Rodney Connor “the sectarian candidate” one has to remember that she is the one who has previously suggested that a future generation of Irish republicans might “have to”go back to violence, that people should not go to the police over certain crimes and who celebrates assorted terrorists. It is not Rodney Connor but Gildernew who supports the murder of Marie Wilson and the others on Remembrance Sunday and the attempt to wipe out the Protestant children at Tullyhommon. It is Michelle Gildernew not Rodney Connor who supports the murders of all those killed in Fermanagh by her friends in the IRA. If unionists wish to unite to end her career of sectarian non representation of FST then that decision is itself far from sectarian. For Sinn Fein to call it such is not the pot calling the kettle black but the cesspit calling the operating theatre unhygienic.

It must be remembered that Gildernew won the first time when Garrison polling station was illegally forced to stay open after its closing time. Sinn Fein will not shrink from bending or breaking as many rules as it needs to win this seat.

In addition although Fermanagh is one of the hot beds of dissident support and an area where Sinn Fein have lost a considerable number of members recently, no anti agreement republican candidate has been declared. Now with unionists uniting it is likely that many of those from rejectionist republicanism who would have decided to abstain will vote Gildernew to stop Rodney Connor, hence, making his job even more difficult though still much easier than the hopeless situation if there were two unionist candidates.

Unionists must not think that Rodney Connor will win without effort. Sinn Fein will now pour considerable effort into holding FST. They will reason that if they can hold FST this time then it may be their’s for good. Some nationalists down here of course will baulk at voting for the cheerleader in chief which Gildernew is, but many will not, even some who normally vote SDLP. It is possible that the SDLP will make little enough effort either through design or more likely incompetence.

Unionists are not all the same here in FST: some will have very similar views to Rodney Connor, others less so. However, if FST is to be represented at Westminster and if Sinn Fein’s much vaunted greening of the west, is to be rolled back then all unionists will have to help. That will mean that local unionists from all three of the parties must put effort into canvassing and helping Rodney Connor’s campaign. In addition the unionist parties will have to send some of their leading members down here to help Rodney’s campaign and direct some of their workers to come down to help. Sinn Fein will certainly be doing the same. Unionists in FST have suffered so much during the IRA’s campaign that they deserve no less than the fulsome support of unionists from outside the constituency.

This campaign may lack some of the bitterness of 1981 but it will be just as closely fought and with just as uncertain an outcome.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Wow. That’s an impressive a peice of self delusion, anti-republican and hazily anti-democratic rhetoric that I’ve read in a long time. Eloquent but rhetoric nonetheless.
    Since the unionist unity candidate was announced, SF have been hypocritical in denoucing it as sectarian while proposing the same. However, it has now just spiralled down into a series of “our bigot is better than yours, ours is more inclusive, better track record etc”
    However, the issue I really have with your argument is that it is not just Gildernew who is allergic to Westminster. You protray it as a surprise that was foisted upon the electorate after the fact.
    At the last election 38% of the electorate did not want to be represented at Westminster was the largest single view and under the FPTP system held sway. You cant be a part time democrat.
    The rest of your post is the usual regurgitation of terrorist / murderer name-calling that we should have moved on from so I will leave it to one side and wonder if a line will ever be drawn under the past in northern ireland.
    Having said that, I enjoyed the read. Thanks

  • Neil

    So on one hand Unionism comes out saying ‘hooray, we have one Protestant Unionist candidate in F&ST, so all you Protestant Unionist voters come out and vote for your Protestant Unionist candidate’ while on the other SF we know had all parties stood would not have sought a pact for they would have had no need.

    In other words Turgon, as usual, Unionism throws in a sneaky blow and every move thereafter by Republicans is petty revenge.

    The truth is had Unionism done the normal thing and fielded their candidates (instead of trying to subvert democracy by ensuring that the smallest community wins the election over the majority) SF would have done nothing, and as you say you would have lost. However, given the sectarian pact by Unionism to disenfranchise the majority community, SF have responded in kind.

    It’s amusing to see how in your world Unionism dripping with shit still smells of roses. Almost as amusing as they rallying call to this election battle royale, which any Unionist unity candidate would have about a 10% advantage built into their vote. Almost as amusing as your party – who stand against all terrorist, the party with the guy who thinks that loyalist muderer is such a great guy; ya know the one who killed about ten people and likes to smack women about.

    Keep up the good work Turgon, attempting to scaremonger folk into thinking that Unionism winning in F&ST will be a hard fought victory, although I would imagine most people aren’t that thick.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Turgon, was about to do my first Slugger Posting on the campaign in F&ST, but you have beat me to it, I think it is unfortunate that the mud slinging of “sectarian” is being flung around so much, I believe Rodney has an excellent record on Fermanagh Council, remember it was a Nationalist controlled council that appointed him to the top job and paid strong tribute to his work when he retired. Talking to him I know he has a desire to see the voice of the most westerly tip of the UK heard at Westminister. So far both the UUP and DUP party workers have been working strongly together on the ground, and the response on the doors has been overwhelmingly posative, (i know canvasers always say that but it is true in this case!) many who said they wern’t going to vote say they will now there is a chance to get some sort of representation.

  • Mark McGregor


    Point of info not a single nationalist rep thought he was the best person for the job and didn’t approve his appointment.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Neil, I don’t see the word Protestant anywhere on Rodney Connors Literature, and whilst he is a Unionist he certainly isnt a “Protestant Unionist” like Paisley of old, I welcomes and is asking from the votes of all unionists no matter what their religion, and also those who may be nationalist or neutral but desire to be represented at parliment.
    It has been shown that the Unionist Vote in recent years has exceeded the percentage of the population who are Protestant, not by alot but some Catholics are definately voting that way, and Rodney has had financial, practical and calls of support from quite a few Catholics, I hope that come the 7th May he will come in with over 50% of the vote like Ken Maginnis was able to get on several occasions.

  • madraj55

    Drumlins Rock. You say that Connor had calls of support from Catholics, well that’s curious, because, only last night on the early UTV news, McKinney was claiming to have support pledges from Protestants. you pays your moneys and makes your choice. [sic]

  • Drumlins Rock

    so some Protestants are supporting McKinney, and some Catholics supporting Connor, told you it wasn’t a sectarian headcount.

  • Dev

    Nice rant Turgon.

    ‘This campaign may lack some of the bitterness of 1981’ … apparently not if you have anything to say about it.

  • Ash Cloud

    He’s an orangeman, selected to run by the Orange Order and agreed to in Halls up and down the constituency. He was always known as such in his dealings with the parties in the Townhall, from what I hear.

    And this is no secret among Fermanagh nationalists – despite some tributes paid to him on his retirement. Its really fun when Turgon and the like tell us nationalists what our opinion is.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Is he an Orangeman? I dont know never asked him, and never heard his name mentioned at any Orange meetings before he was selected, if you think Turgon knows nothing about nationalism you know even less about unionism, the Orange might make noises about Unionist Unity, but its too cumbersome a structure with too many differing viewpoints to get involved in this. The deal was done Primarily by Tom Elliott & Arelene Foster, and other senior members of the two parties in F&ST, all of whom were under alot of pressure form ordinary people on the ground.

  • apollo293867

    The reality of this sectarian head count is that the SDLP supporters hold the key to this seat. The Shinners are asking them to lend them a vote! Whether that tactic is successful remains to be seen but Moderate Unionists have to ask themselves the following questions

    Which party is RC accountable UCUNF DUP or TUV?

    Is RC going to vote for budget cuts?

    Having said that he will take the Tory whip does he further support the extremists the Tories have allied themselves to in Europe?

    Is RC like Sammy a climate change denier?

    Is he like some DUP members a young earth creationist, does he want this taught in sciences classes in our schools?

    Does he think the Pope is the Anti-Christ?

    Does he find homosexuality an abomination?

    I believe that maybe this election will be just a sectarian head-count but anyone looking to challenge that will at least have an Alliance Candidate to vote for, a voice of hope not stale politics of yesterday.

  • Ash Cloud

    You attend orange meetings in the County and you don’t know if Rodders is an orangeman, hee hee… oh my sides hurt. This whole business really exposes the bigots. I think its the best thing ever happened. This really will be a shallow victory for Unionism if St. Rodders of respect and inclusivity pulls it off.

  • drumlins rock

    apollo, Rodney Connor is INDEPENDANT, look it up it means he is only accountable to those who elect him, however as the vast majority of these voters will be UUP & DUP voters lending their votes I guess his views will be broadly similar to theirs. No body has asked him his views on most of these issues that I am aware off, and as I dont know of them being high on any parties manifesto I doubt they will be relevant during this parliment. As for European extremists, the still extreme SF is a bit more relevant than some minor Eastern European Party. Maybe you should ask Michelle about SFs links with Castro, FARC, Chaves etc.

    As for the Alliance Candidate, it will be an achievement if she keeps her deposit.

  • drumlins rock

    Ash, I was at a Lodge meeting last night, the election wasnt even mentioned. Dont know where you knowledge of Lodge meetings comes from but politics is rarely if ever discussed. I have been worknig closely with Rodney in Tyrone and never thought of asking him, and he has said nothing indicating if he is or is not a member, and it certainly hasnt been raised on the doorsteps.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    This whole episode has SF squealing like a spoilt toddler because they might lose a seat they don’t take anyway.

    Sure they can sit in the Brit funded Northern Ireland assembly and councils, export MEPs and claim fat expenses but can’t be arsed to actually enter Westminster. If SF can sign up to partition and administer British rule, then why not go the whole hog and take their Westminster seats?

    Fact is SF are desperate not to be seen to have electoral failures as it knocks a wheel off their little bandwagon. The kicking they got in the southern election was bad enough but losing a seat in the north, however engineered, would be a major blow.

    Well grow up boys and girls — politics is a dirty game — sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. SF don’t have a god given right to a seat any more than Unionism does. It’s up to SF to mend bridges with the SDLP for future elections and work out their own pacts if they can. There’s no law against it.

    In the meantime, taking your seats at Westminster just might lever you a few votes from people who actually prefer their MPs to do their job.

  • drumlins rock

    checked again, it is money down the drain for Alliance, spoilt ballots usually out poll the Alliance candidate, which I guess amounts to the same thing anyways,

  • Scamallach

    “Sinn Fein have already shamelessly tried to make this a straight sectarian fight”

    Eh, and the DUP and UCU didn’t do that already by pulling out?? I don’t want to say the Unionists started it but….the Unionists started it.

    “This campaign may lack some of the bitterness of 1981 but it will be just as closely fought and with just as uncertain an outcome”

    Not if you have anything to say about it. You’ve got enough bitterness and bile to make up for all the people who have moved on.

  • Greenflag

    It’ll be close . Connor is 8/11 with Paddy Power with Gildernew at even money . McKinney is 33/1 whereas Gerry Adams is 1/750 in West Belfast with McDonnell at 1/5 in Belfast South .The TUV are rated at 66/1 and 50/1 . Their closest odds are in North Antrim but even there is 15/8 against an odds on Ian Paisley Jr . Allister is doomed as is the TUV . And no loss to NI either .

  • Greenflag

    Allister has finally flipped as per this BBC news report

    ‘The TUV leader has said his party will use any leverage it has in a hung parliament to reverse rules over the NI first minister job.
    Jim Allister said that the rules could hand the first minister’s job to Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
    He said the St Andrew’s rule change which allowed the largest party to enter the office instead of the largest designation must be reversed.’

    Why must it be reversed ? To suit Allister and his bagatelle of ultra bigots ? Not going to happen . The TUV are again moon barking 🙁

    They’ll never learn but then they don’t want to or don’t need to eh ;)? They are and will remain the people of the past facing a dismal political present and an empty political future . Sic transit and ho hum etc .

  • G O’Neill

    Oh yes I love the line from the unionist commentators here about Rodney Connor wanting to represent all the people in FST im sure the red white and blue colour scheme for his posters was just a random occurance.

    Michelle Gidernew has been a great representative for FST. The people here know that she is abstentionist when they vote for her so please stop this nonsense about the people not having thier views heard. Another case of unionists only liking democracy when it suits them.

    In any event even if Connor does win the seat it will only mask the fact that every year the number of nationalists in FST increases as the unionist vote falls so you wont be able to stop what you call the “greening of the West” forever

  • Drumlin Rock

    He is a unionist, course he uses red, white and blue, dosn’t mean he can’t represent people on everyday issues, and the job of an MP is to be a Member of Parliment, its not just 2 extra letters to stick after your name as an ego trip. Michelle has never represented F&ST in the place she was supposed to, she was my MP and has never did anything since being elected that she couldnt have done as an MLA, and has therefore totally neglected her area on the national and international stage.

  • Drumlin Rock,
    Sorry to pick you up on just a little point.
    “never did anything since being elected that she couldnt have done as an MLA”

    Did she not claim some extra expenses for not representing us at Westminster? I know that was absolutely no use to us and only useful to her and her immediate side kicks but she did “achieve” that by being our non-MP.

  • Drumlin Rock

    will concede you a half point, actually she claimed alot of expenses, and has very little if anything to show for it, just the standard pokey offices in Enniskillen and Dungannon shared with all other SF roles.

  • RepublicanStones

    Sinn Fein have already shamelessly tried to make this a straight sectarian fight

    Right so the single unionist candidate didn’t do that? So republicans are sectarian if they merely play by unionist rules…but the same rules don’t make unionist parties sectarian? How does that work?

  • Drumlin Rock

    RS, the idea of the game is to win the seat, if you know your not gonna win on your own join up with a competitor you can work with, despite big differences the UUP & DUP can work together this time, it seems the gap with the SDLP & SF is still to big, understandably so, quit yapping about it and fight your corner on why Michelle should be allowed to continue to deny us a Member of Parliment.

  • RepublicanStones

    RS, the idea of the game is to win the seat, if you know your not gonna win on your own join up with a competitor you can work with,

    So you must disagree with Turgon then. Glad to hear it DR !

    When unionists try and win a seat its smart politics, when nationalists try it, its sectarian….at least according to Turgon.

  • FST Ciaran

    I suppose in some ways it brings a smile to my face when I watch unionists in F&ST desperately try to oust a nationalist from my constituency. It really shows how far we have come as nationalists by the fact we have reduced unionism to this.

    The reality is F&ST is a nationalist constituency with a very proud electoral history having previously elected Bobby Sands as our MP and following his death we elected Owen Carron. The nationalist majority is on the rise.

    I personally do not see the British Parliament as having any connection with the six counties and on of the main reasons I cast a vote for Michelle Gildernew is on the basis that she abstains from this foreign parliament.

    All shades of unionism have come together with the aim of denying the nationalist majority in F&ST their right to elect a nationalist MP. I am also disgusted with how the Stoop Down Low Party leader Margaret Ritchie has handled the situation and I strongly believe many SDLP voters across the six counties will be feeling the same way not just today but on May 6th.

    The majority of voters in F&ST do not want represented in a foreign parliament and that is why Michelle was/and will be elected in 2001, 2005 and 2010 as MP.

    SDLP voters know Ferghal can not take F&ST and no matter what ever way this debate is turned and twisted the reality is the majority of F&ST does NOT want represented in a foreign parliament and anyone who tells you different has not done their homework.

  • JoeJoe

    I wonder why SF doesn’t do posters showing Paddy Power’s odds on the elections I.E.
    Unionist 8/11, SF 1/1, SDLP 66/1

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Cos they’re afraid of everyone putting a £10 on Mc Kinney and then voting for him?

    (Even at 8/11, Connor still looks the value candidate. I reckon he’d have to morph into someone like Willie Mc Crea to lose at this stage).

  • Ciaran FST

    Question(s) for Fergal. . Really needs to be asked at this stage. .

    If you have so much faith in the SDLP Fergal why have you voted for them in the last ten years? Why as you have already admitted not voted for anyone in the last ten years? Do you not have faith in the political system? How will you feel should Rodney Connor win this seat knowing you played a major role in him winning? Do you miss Belfast? Are you homesick? How would you feel taking an oath to the Queen of England? Is it fair to day that you know that even in your wildess dreams you can not take F&ST but you are simpy using this election to boast your profile for the assembly elections at possible expense of nationalists in F&ST? Why should someone vote for you given the fact that you have no track record in serving the public? Any SLDP supporters who could give me a few answers?

  • Ciaran FST

    sorry for typos(rushing) above to note that it should state that fergal have NOT voted in the last 10 years.

  • Ciaran FST

    Sinn Féin Councillor Thomas O’Reilly has expressed shock and outrage at further revelations that between his appointment and his resignation as Chief Executive of Fermanagh District Council Rodney Connor is to cost rate payers almost half a million pounds.

    Councillor O’Reilly said:

    “We are in the middle of a recession. People are struggling to meet their bills and pay their mortgages. It is in this context that hundreds of jobs are being lost in Quinn Insurance in this constituency and many others face losing their jobs all over Ireland. And in the middle of all of this we hear that Rodney Connor is to cost ratepayers in Fermanagh almost half a million pounds between his controversial appointment and the enhanced severance package, which he immediately received upon his resignation as Chief Executive of Fermanagh District Council in March 2010.

    “Many constituents have expressed their outrage and disgust to myself and my party colleagues and are asking is it possible that Rodney Connor is using money from the hard pressed ratepayers of Fermanagh to fund his election campaign.

    “There is a huge degree of hypocrisy in all of this. Rodney Connor is asking voters to back him and to back the cuts being planned by the Tories. Ordinary people are being asked to tighten their belts and to take wage cuts and Rodney Connor is shedding crocodile tears at the job losses within Quinn Insurance. The Tories are planning to cut unemployment benefit and housing benefit, and reduce working tax credits and child tax credits for families who are struggling to get by. Meanwhile, here we have the Tory candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone with his wallet stuffed with wads of ratepayers money from his golden handshake seeking to get on the gravy train to Westminster.

    “Rodney Connor now has numerous questions to answer. Why did he not declare when he got this generous financial package that he was planning to contest the Westminster election? Does he plan to keep both his pension and his enhanced severance package as well as an MP salary in the unlikely event that he was elected? Does he think it is right that Fermanagh rate payers should face substantial rate hikes to cover the half a million pounds he has cost?”