The perception filling the airwaves that Sinn Fein do a better job of representing the people than the unionist parties needs examination. On the one hand everybody seems to believe it or explain it by claiming SF had the easier task – “Catholics had it all to gain; the Prods could only lose.” The most fervent believers in SF superiority are of course the loyalists, following the old rule of political behaviour that alienated people believe their opponents more than their own side.
Are these perceptions of SF’s superiority deserved? The nationalist vote is similarly split between a dominant party and a declining one. True, voting seems to be declining faster on the unionist side than among nationalists but given the appalling state of the electoral register that may mean little.
Nationalism reluctantly harbours an arguably more dangerous vestigial rump in the shape of the dissidents and their political voices.
How well has Sinn Fein delivered? In a post last October Chris Donnelly usefully undermines the myth of greater loyalist deprivation and records some comparative concentrations of poverty. Even the claim of generally superior Catholic achievement in education is questionable. None of this downplays the existence of the Protestant deprived who have always been politically volatile.
So why is Sinn Fein’s political image so much better? Are they still living on an ancient narrative that it was all the fault of the Brits and unionist discrimination and that a freedom struggle was necessary to achieve equality? Nearly fifteen years after the GFA, are there any signs that they’re now being held equally accountable for failure? Or that the old zero sum game is starting to run out of steam on both sides?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London