FST’s ‘shotgun marriage’ may not cut it for Unionist electorate…

Last week Ben Lowry was asking whether those behind the Unionist unity campaign had taken account of its natural response: nationalist unity? The publication of the High Court’s judgement against Fermanagh District Council won’t help the unity candidate down there.

Toals already have the incumbent Michelle Gildernew fractionally ahead of the council’s former CEO Rodney Connor, even though, theoretically, the numbers should add up to slight unionist majority.

As I argued back in January, some of form of unionist unity is politically desirable. But it is the slight air of desperation around this cobbled together pact that defines it as a weak move. Those last words from A Long Peace?, again:

In future struggles, unionists need to be both right and attractive. For that, a firmer, bolder, more far-sighted unionism will be needed.

What’s fascinating about this poll is the range of possible outcomes. And in particular, just how close both leaders of the main unionist parties are to falling off a cliff. If Reg Empey fails to win the South Antrim seat, where else can he go but out (and into the Lords)? Peter Robinson’s own ambitions in East Belfast are set no higher than survival.

The unity candidate was his ‘big idea’ too. If they fail to take FST the DUP will struggle to make any accusation of tardiness against the UUs stick. More fundamentally, this was a defensive move to conjure up a win from nowhere for the lead party and shore up their weakened position.

That piece from January:

…the lesson of Irisgate is that when faced with a strongly consolidated nationalist bloc under the direction of a single opposition party – that is, Sinn Féin – they must look for ways to consolidate themselves.

That cannot happen under the chained-up oligarchy of the DUP, nor through the open hippy commune of the Trimble era. But it can happen under strong leadership that enjoys a open and widely distributed power and democratic power base.

In other words, Northern Irish political parties need to become more like parties elsewhere: larger coalitions that accurately reflect the interests of the people who vote for them.

That can’t happen through a shot gun marriage…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • cynic2

    Unionisms key gap is a lack of leadership. Of a leader willing to tell people the truth – that they won the war, the union is safe and they should live at peace in harmony, respect and co-operation with their neighbours, many of whom aspire to a United Ireland but have signed up to accept a lot less.

    There will always be the nutter wing who wont accept that. Fine. That’s what the TUV is for.

    You have also missed out the age and sex thing. UUP and DUP are old and male. We need a lot more young people and females into unionist parties. After the election the Conservatives and Unionists need to consider where they are going. There is 5 years to build a real party structure before the next Westminster election.

    What about the DUP? I fear they are incapable of it. Not so much a party as a business owned by a few families.

  • Seeing as the executive institutionalises a larger coalition I don’t think that is the lesson we are learning from elsewhere.

    What we are really getting (as evidenced by the hysterical kicking and screaming as the yokel press and politerati get dragged into a wider UK debate) is the end of the acceptance of NI’s status as a ‘special’ region that just looked after it’s own sectional interests.

    Cameron’s comments set the cat amongst the pigeons. Hopefully come the morning after the election, people here will wake up to a new definition of regional politics. The current dynamic of holding out a collective begging bowl may prove short lived. A likely Tory government will no doubt bring closer scrutiny to this shackled relationship.

    Confidence and far-sightedness will be needed. I disagree with the assertion that Connor is more shotgun than pragmatism. I think FST simply got a better candidate. The fact he came from outside both local unionist structures is telling.

  • Ash Cloud

    Wouldn’t you call the Orange Order a Unionist structure?

  • Drumlin Rock

    No-one is saying a win for unionist in F&ST will be easy, and the idea of nationalist unity was always a factor from the beginning, for a while I personally though there may have been a good chance a strong UCU candidate could have surged enough ahead of the DUP to be a challenge to the apathetic SF vote and stronger SDLP candidate, and whilst the SDLP did provide a strong candidate, the UCU & DUP probably were level with each other, a slanging match between unionists would have put alot of voters off, they have been telling us that on the doorsteps! and certainly there was no hope without a joint candidate. The question is will nationalist apathy and consolidation rebound enough to save Michelle’s expenses claim, as that is the only practical result from having a SF MP.

  • cynic2


    I think you are unkind to Michelle. She was there to give Gerry Adams a cuddle on Sunday when Gerry McGeough abused him for canvassing outside his chapel. She does have her uses you know.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Mick, much harder for you all to leave the past in the past when the first and last words out everyone’s mouths are “unionist” and “nationalist”. For the cruel irony, well, cruel irony for me at least, given the recent disappearance of my one reply to that one other post, but the only posts here on things local that don’t start by creating the divide are those speaking to things out there in space.

    In other words, some can’t play to the sectarian divide to quite the same degree without you and some others serving as their broadcast platform.

    Or putting it a third way, take that third or last quoted paragrah there from your piece in your January. How is that supposed to happen when you all serve as their means of reducing the affair to two words? Some others have what you say you desire because they don’t start and end the discussion with two words. To know who they are, you have to know “the interests of the people who vote for them”. Again, you all reduce that to two words.

    Lastly, neither “unionist” nor “nationalist” unity is desirable. What is desirable is seeing that the parts from 1:27 – 2:09 and 3:43 – 3:58 are of no more perceived need, leaving you all with 3:05 – 3:42 and 4:05 – end:


    So for the fourth and final way of putting it, how do some leave the trenches when the two words keep them in or take them back to those trenches? And, no, nothing in the unwritten code of journalist ethics mandates that you and some others serve as their broadcast platform.

    Sorry, I lied, and so for a unity that had nothing to do with “union” and “national” (beginning – 2:02):


    Leaving me to say what I said in my comment there, and if Mr. Barr can see the manipulation inherent in the call for “union”, why are some others serving as the broadcast platform for the same… And if one can’t see the point, kindly note Mr. Barr’s distinction between “unionist politician” and “Protestant working class” and his use of “manipulated” in reference to what the former did to the latter (to put it in Pauline terms, some are zealous for you, but not well, as they only desire to shut you out so that you might be zealous to them).

    Almost forgot, but on a wholly unrelated note, have you seen Willie’s election vid (as you are a subscriber to his channel)? No need for any reply, but if you haven’t seen it, check it out. As I’ve said, he’s damaged, but he might be useful to help people learn of and apply for, etc., those bread and butter benefits he speaks to. Now to bring it back closer to topic, Big Ian and Uncle Marty must have done something right when the diehard “unionist” and “nationalist” speak of “betrayal” (see 5:57 – 6:02 or so of his vid and note the fitting video depiction accompanying the words).

  • Drumlin Rock

    It had nothing to do with the Orange, and I doubt that Rodney is even a member, it has certainly never come up on the doorsteps. As both the UUP and DUP had to be 100% behind the candidate for the deal to work of course it had to be someone outside either party structures.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Lets hope Gerry will be as good at giving her a comforting cuddle in the early hours of May 7th.

  • cynic2

    I know. There’s a lot rising on this for her.

    £600,000 expenses over the last parliament wasn’t it.

  • Ash Cloud

    No, the practical result is that the voters in F/ST got what they voted for – An excellent candidate who works for, and represents them and who refuses to take a seat in Westminster. Its democracy ain’t it.

  • cynic2

    He’ll be showing her his supportive side and not telling her its ‘best just to get over it and get on with your life’ as I seem to recall one female alleging he advised her after she was raped by a colleague in the organisation Gerry was never in.

    Well there’s comfort and support and there’s comfort and support.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Yup, thats democracy for you, so is two parties realising that niether can win on their own and joining forces behind one candidate, to unseat a rival who has failed to do the job since being elected.


    I know why there are nationalist parties in Northern Ireland but can anyone tell me why we still need Unionists parties?
    I’m unionist in that I wish to see the union continue but as far as I’m concerned that issue has been settled. So why would I vote for a “unionist” political party, what are they offering me, apart from naked sectarian tribalism, none more evidenced by the disgraceful “keep the fenians out” FST pact?
    To give credit where it’s due, at least Empey has made a move towards proper politics with his Turkeys voting for Christmas deal with the Tories.
    My own politics are left of centre, where is the unionist party to represent me?
    Come may 6th I’ll probably be voting SDLP or Green Party.

  • sammyMehaffey

    I think you live in the ash cloud. come down to earth and smell the flowers. That ash is very bitter stuff.

  • sammyMehaffey

    there is a need for a unionist party with a small u to protect the UK from the begging bowl loonies in the SNP and Plaid gloves
    And i am beginning to believe that the DUP has become an ulster nationalist party with the biggest begging bowl of the lot

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    The ‘need’ for Unionist parties is based on the fact that Unionism does not trust the British with the Union (that is officailly DUP policy) and the fact that the architecture of the GFA allows for increasing cooperation and coordination between North and South and the shifting of the economic and social focus to the island of Ireland depending on the relative successes of Unionists versus Nationalists in the Stormo elections with a backdrop of continously improving Nationalist demographics.

    In relation to Westminster it matters little (hung parliaments that need the DUP votes aside) whether Nationalists or Unionists or indeed those who are neutral on the issue are returned

  • Drumlin Rock

    TAFKABO, you should really be asking, “where is the left of centre party to represent me?” the SDLP ALWAYS put the national issue first.
    And please chat to Rodney Connor, he is far from a Keep the Taigs Out candidate and genuinely is trying see that everyone in F&ST gets some representation.

  • Drumlin Rock

    But it does matter Sammy, we all know that 99% of the work of Government is carried out in the back rooms of government, and rarely is the vote critical, its like any other area in life, if you talk to people you can put your case over on whatever subject is being discussed, you cant do that if you aren’t in the room, or even the city.
    By having Rodney over in Westminister at least there will be someone to put the views of everyone in F&ST to the other MPs and government officials, on everyday issues such as fuel duty.
    A perfect example in the last parliment was the new immigration Bill that would have made travel between the UK & RoI more difficult, that section was thankfully removed in the Lords, but it would have been much better if it had never been included, but the MP whose constituency would have been most affected completely neglected the risk this bill posed to her constituency of all types.


    I could care less what the flat earthers in the DUP have as policy, I’m confident that the deal we have at present is the best we’re gonna get, and North South cooperation is no threat, why should it be?
    I’m opposed to a united Ireland but not dogmatically opposed to it as a matter of faith, if it becomes expedient to support one I shall do so but don’t see that happening any time soon.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Drumlin Rock,

    that is a good example – but a rare one. Ulster politics that are not done at Stormo are mainly conducted through the front door of Downing Street rather than through the backbenches of Westminster with those who dont take their backbench seats seemingly the most common and influential visitors.

  • Drumlin Rock

    I suspect those days are nearly over though Sammy, give me a key to the back door any day, although it is often protrayed that Westminister is irrelvant these days between stormont and europe, dont forget most business at europe is still decided by the council of ministers, ie. westminister can block it, and I think you will notice that most legislation passed here will be virtually identical to westminister bills on the same issue, ammending them at source would be alot better than having too many differences across the regions.

  • cynic2

    I think the problem is that the DUPs are flat earthers. They don’t accept that we all evolved from a common ancestor all those millions of years ago. For them Norn Iron (and Fermanagh in particular) was formed newly minted in October 4004BC just ion time for the Catholics to be misled by Lucifer

  • Ash Cloud

    We shall see DR. Either way, no matter who wins, I personally think unionism has lost it here. This whole business really has shocked moderate nationalists to awaken to what a lot of us already knew.

  • Ash Cloud

    Regardless of the high esteem which you hold Rodder’s in – which I certainly do not share – He has already been used in Fermanagh District Council to keep two taigs out of the Chief Executive job and now he is allowing himself to be used to keep a taig out of Westminster. Hmmm… such high standards and values. A real man for ALL the people lol.

  • If the Unionists fail to take Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the leaders of their respective parties deserve whatever humiliation comes their way.

    I think it will be very close. It is ironic then that for once, the SDLP have a stronger than usual candidate in Fearghal McKinney. My hunch is that this will be the crucial ingredient which will enable Connor to nick the seat.

  • abucs


    I still think the Unionist candidate will win here by at least a thousand votes. (If not they’ll have to keep the voting booths open until Wednesday). :o)

    If Sinn Fein does win i think both main Unionist parties will consider it unwinnable in the future and look to just maximise their own vote there.

    If the Unionist Unity (?) ticket does get up as expected it will be interesting to see how he will be treated by the two Unionist parties after the fact. If they will try and woo him or criticise him or just give him a free run.

    It will also be interesting to see how many SDLP voters will ‘cross over’ and whether they will cross back at the Assembly elections. Not enough of them will move to give SF the seat is my prediction.

    This is probably the most interesting contest from a Republican/Nationalist perspective.

  • Henry94

    I’m confident that the deal we have at present is the best we’re gonna get

    For both sides.

  • cynic47

    Wonder if Rodney wins will Reg claim it as a survival lifeline? Could be a DUP get out of jail card as well.

  • madraj55

    It will really be just desserts for both UUP and DUP for concocting up this FST stitch up if FST AND SB remain in nats hands, and Dodds loses out however narrowly to Gerry Kelly in NB, giving Westminster equal 9-9 representation for the first time. Not probable this election, but possibly by 2014 or 2015.


    Slan Henry, it’s been while.
    If you’re using that twitter thingummy look me up, I’m StewartL64

  • Drumlin Rock

    alot of “us” ? your far from ever being a moderate Ash from your posting, never in a million years would you hear a SDLP voter talk about how wonderful Michelle is! some might vote for her just to keep the Prod out, and that would be the only reason, as there is no other reason to vote for her.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Dont think Rodney wants to be used in that way if it was divisive.

  • Ash Cloud

    He doesn’t want to be divisive…. oh bless. Lol…. That’s not what over half of his possibly new constituents think – that’s including some not from the nationalist community.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Well over two thirds think Michelle is a lazy money grabber, as she dosnt do the job and milks the expenses.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I was under theimpression she was on the average industrial wage? Are you saying she is trousering money for her own personal gain?

  • Drumlin Rock

    It all goes into the Sinn Fein coffers, where its is distributed after that is something we all would like to know.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    Would it be fair to say that your first statement was a little bit of step with the known facts and even by comparison with your second statement?

    “Well over two thirds think Michelle is a lazy money grabber, as she dosnt do the job and milks the expenses”

    “It all goes into the Sinn Fein coffers, where its is distributed after that is something we all would like to know”

  • stewart

    Is it fair to say that Rodney Connor is a unionist patsy?

  • cynic47

    Wouldn’t say he was a Unionist patsy. He was very adept at holding all the strands of Fermanagh Council together in difficult times. Very much a diplomat and one of the few who knows when it is more clever to say nothing.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Ack Sammy, I was trying to wind Ash up a bit more, its been fun so far, have to say that most Unionists take the whole “average industrial wage” waffle with a massive pinch of salt, SF certainly have always claimed all they can get, but where it ends up seems to be a mystery.

  • Ash Cloud

    Are you sure its me getting wound up? I just have to stick to the facts and not use fibs. But then again your whole argument about Rodder’s the INDEPENDANT candidate is a big lie. Oh and the Unionists last scheme to give him a job to keep the taigs out is being reported today as costing the Fermanagh rate payer £250,000. Another thing not to get wound up about.

  • Todd

    When did you come back from France??

  • Ash Cloud

    No, dictionary definition of a patsy is a person decieved, ridiculed or tricked. Just what Rodney Connor’s is trying to do to the electorate by saying he will represent everyone…. That really is pissing the electorate off and he will need every vote.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Nice of you to speak for the entire electorate, but I will let them speak for themselves next Thursday. Rodney knows exactly what he is doing, and whilst most of his support will come the UUP & DUP voters he is determined reach out to others too, I accept he might not manage to represent all the views of F&ST all the time, but it sure beats representing nobody anytime like Michellle.

  • Drumlin Rock

    The costs did not relate to Rodney’s appointment, but to the auditors review and then the council went to court about who should pay them.

  • Reader

    It was Sammy… : I was under the impression she was on the average industrial wage? Are you saying she is trousering money for her own personal gain?
    Doesn’t the ‘Average industrial wage’ bit only apply to the salary? Since the Westminster expenses system covered unreceipted expenses (i.e. ‘perks’) as well as receipted expenses, it would have been possible for an unscrupulous MP to get very wealthy even if their salary was capped.
    It is possible, if not likely, that the SF runs their own filter on their MPs’ expenses to rake off all or part of the profit. What do you reckon?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “What do you reckon?”

    Difificult to say without the facts – I was simply pointing out to DR (who has since suggested he was just teasing some poor soul) that it might be better to have some evidence before suggesting impropriety.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Sammy, it is Michelle who has grabbed the expenses but refuses to do the job, they are paid to MPs not parties, she maintains she passes them on to Sinn Fein, so what do they do with all that money?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I have no idea.

    In the absence of any facts then I suppose some people, like yourself, will specutale – but probably a little pointless.

  • Ash Cloud

    What SF is doing is entirely legal – she’s the MP providing excellent service. But you don’t want to know that ‘cos for you and Rodder’s its “Get the taigs out”
    Why don’t you address the fact that the Unionist councillor’s bigotry and discrimination has cost the ratepayer in Fermanagh £250,000 by appointing Rodney Connors.
    I agree with the letter writer to the Impartial today – that there should be an outside body appointed to examine Rodney’s activities in FDC during his tenure. The SDLP & SF need to get on the ball here.

  • Neil

    The costs did not relate to Rodney’s appointment, but to the auditors review and then the council went to court about who should pay them.

    Did not relate to Connor’s appointment? LOL. Statement from the Lord Justice:

    “A relevant factor must be whether the investigation was justified even though no finding is made against the Council or councillors.

    “In this case the investigation into the process of appointing the new Chief Executive was entirely justified in the circumstances.

    “What was uncovered during the investigation must also be a relevant factor.”

    He added: “What was uncovered in this instance fell short of wilful misconduct but was sufficient to justify settling two fair employment claims.

    “It was at best prima facie discriminatory and certainly unedifying.

    “All those factors justify an order… that the auditor’s expenses relating to the appeal, including the appellants’ costs of the appeal, should be paid out of the account of Fermanagh District Council. Accordingly I will make the order sought.”

    So a succesful appeal is lodged and 2 fair employment claims and associated costs have to be settled thanks to the appointment of Connor and in your head this equates to ‘did not relate to the appointment of Connor’? Let’s put it another way, if Rodney hadn’t been appointed through discriminatory illegal practices would there have been a payout? Nope. Therefore are the payout and the appointment of your poster boy related? Well obviously yes only a fool would suggest otherwise.

    but it sure beats representing nobody anytime like Michellle

    Oh but she does represent the people who vote for her. It may not tickle you much but people who vote SF know that they won’t take their seats, she is given her mandate on the understanding that she won’t take her seat and therefore is represnting her electorate as they wish. No oath to the Queen see. And as you say yourself:

    99% of the work of Government is carried out in the back rooms of government

    Which as we all know was where SF constructed their half of the peace process. No oaths required to do back room negotiating and as such they will have no problem being there. It’s taking the seats and partaking in votes they don’t do, and as you say about 1% of those votes have any impact on our devolved assembly. Unless of course it’s your opinion that SF shouldn’t be able to take part in back room negotiations for the good of their electorate due to the fact that, well they are Sinn Fein after all.

  • connors by name

    Rodney must be favourite. Though i wonder will he still take his Public sector pension which equates to 2/3 of his final salary – of £80,000. Also it is interesting that in the debate which all the candidates attended in Irvinestown last monday Rodney would not deny he would employ his wife if elected as office manager / p.a. This is a million pound election for Rodney. He wins he keeps his pension (plus sizeable upfront payment he got on his retirement, plus mp salary, plus new pension payments, plus expenses, plus potential large salary and expenses for his wife. Work it out guys over 5 years The Conor household can take in up to £1million !!!!!!!!!!