Sinn Fein’s Demographic war for constitutional change is useless without middle class

Interesting take from Denis Bradley on Friday on the current impasse. In it, he accurately describes the model as I suspect SF see it:

While an unreformed DUP occupy one of the corners in the boxing ring, Sinn Fein are in no danger of being removed as their opponent in the other corner. Our history and our divided loyalties have tied us into an incessant battle of numbers – the majority living in fear of becoming the minority and the minority patiently looking forward to the day when they become the majority. The two governments signed up to being the oil in the joints to keep some movement possible and to unlock anything that seized up completely. Unfortunately, we have inherited two governments who had little skin in our peace and who seem to have forgotten or never understood their role. As a consequence, we are politically paralysed.

I doubt this is how either the British or the Irish governments saw their role, even if it’s a fair description of how Blair and Ahern handled it in earlier days. It implies a permanent permanent infantilisation (and, I’d argue, dependency) in which the baby that throws their toys out of the pram most effectively wins.

Bradley continues:

But no matter how disappointed or disillusioned people might be, the percentage of the vote that Sinn Fein gets from nationalist/republican voters will remain roughly the same and in a tight contest, where a bloodied nose could be delivered to the DUP, that percentage is likely to be augmented by floating voters. it is not the percentage of the vote that scares Sinn Fein, it is the number who are thinking of not voting at all. If the disillusionment and cynicism grows and more and more people stop going to the polling station then Sinn Fein are left with the exact problem that unionism has been living with for many years.

The number of non-voting unionists increases election after election. When people give up on voting in a number of elections it become very difficult, if not impossible, to get them back into the political fold. If that trend were to become as severe among nationalist/republican voters then Sinn Fein’s strategy becomes even more difficult. They have plenty to be nervous about.

This is where I’d quibble, and where Robinson’s analysis that in effect SF is only running a skeleton operation at Stormont these days is a rather more accurate description of where SF’s larger ambitions lie.

Almost all of Sinn Fein’s mind, presence, money and human resources are in the south right now. For example, if there is a SpAd being paid to mind the Culture Minister, it’s pretty clear they are working on something other than the minister’s brief.

Falling turnout in fact is good for Sinn Fein, because it indicates no one is looking too closely at an incumbency which – in seven years and well into its third term – has failed to deliver anything other than large amounts of internal resources for its big push in the south. It keeps the interest of its own base alive by the serial tweaking of the DUPs nose.

All of which is fair game for a party which sees both jurisdictions as temporary way stages for the new Republic it has in mind but the details of which it prefers not be drawn on. Delivering anything tangible in current Northern Ireland is not the point, as Mitchel McLaughlin hinted back in 2006...

…asked to explain exactly what Sinn Féin had achieved for its supporters, media-disaster Mitchel spluttered for a moment before blurting out: “The degree of uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the unionist community!” Oops.

Mitchel’s faux pas reveals something important about the party’s demographic strategy. Natural change is not going to work quickly enough to satisfy that populist itch. Destabilising whole communities implies you want people to move or even better to take the boat.

The unacknowledged paradox is, as Bradley highlights above is that such a bleed to death stratagem switches off the very middle class Catholic voters needed for such transformation from seeking change in almost any area that would narrow the widening political gap between north and south. >

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

  • Greenflag

    Mick ,

    Did’nt get your comment above . The link ??

    Nothing built on hatred or fear lasts forever .It’s contrary to human nature even if it appears to be successful for a short time.


  • Reader

    Mc Slaggart: This “Alliance party commitment to equality” which “Union Flag up on designated days” does not reach such a standard.
    Are you flipping between a council sponsored ‘cross community’ event and the ongoing symbolism on council buildings? Why? And what next – rules on flag flying for every organisation that receives government money? If you want to merge rules across various aspects of life here remember that others will have input too.
    And, to be perfectly frank, I think the designated days approach *does* meet equality standards. If only the nationalist parties believed – really believed – that their day would come!

  • Kevsterino

    @Greenflag, do check out the link. It has an amusing ‘blast from the past’ explaining in numerological certitude that Gerry Adams is…what for it…the Anti-Christ! Great stuff.

  • Kevsterino

    I expect that as the proportion of the population who identify as Irish grows, their mere presence as a majority will progressively make Northern Ireland a more Irish place. Whether this will be acceptable to folks who regard themselves as ‘Simply British’ or who tick the ‘British Only’ box is, to me at least, an open question. I can imagine it would make people who hold such views anxious about their future.

  • Greenflag

    @ Am Ghobsmacht.

    ‘Interesting points Greenflag but do you have anything more concrete than that?”

    Sorry AG you lost me there – than what precisely ?

    “I mean, if a united Ireland is the supreme prize then what price are people willing to pay?”

    Supreme prize ? Read my profile – I’m agnostic on the whole question ‘

    ‘When you say ‘unionist’ would it not be more accurate to say ‘Protestant’?’

    No -most Protestants I know are not Unionists -they live in ROI – and being atheist I prefer NOT to use the terms Catholic or Protestant if I can avoid it or I lump them all together under the ‘Christian ‘ nomenclature.

    “As in McQuaid would not have liked that (i.e to have so many Prods kicking around the place).”

    Mc Quaid was a ‘strange ‘ figure by all accounts and a product of a ‘triumphalist ‘ Catholic Free State of 1930’s /40’s vintage . That mindset if it exists at all in the Republic today may linger in the minds of 80 and 90 year olds or those who are brainwashed beyond redemption or perhaps in hope of the latter.

    “Churchill would quite possibly have been merciless with them.’

    Possibly but his Tory party fellow cabinet members would have baulked at such a betrayal of loyal fellow unionists in time of war .

    Although Churchill in his earlier Liberal years stood on an election platform in Belfast with John Redmond and Joe Devlin in support of Home Rule he did so to ensure that all Ireland would remain within the union with a world war on the horizon and with Britain’s worldwide Empire under pressure from German and USA ‘competition ‘ and rising anti colonialism movements taking root in India , Africa etc . A sensible enough strategy from a British imperial perspective never mind local domestic political considerations .

    Unionists btw never forgave him for that ‘treachery ‘ .

    Britain got everything it wanted /needed from Ireland during WW2 anyway . Food , labour , volunteers for the armed forces etc etc . Irish neutrality was more for home consumption in the Free State and political stability .

    ‘instead of 5000 Irish men deserting etc ‘

    I believe the figure for Irish ‘volunteers ‘ in the British armed forces was upwards of 50,000 and many times more if one counted those Irish resident in Britain at the time .

    ‘Not even a strategic half wit in the face of the Nazi war machine would think “right, now let’s piss off the Irish”
    That just doesn’t make sense.’

    Lots of things don’t make sense and even more so in wartime – Churchill himself as First Lord of the Admirality almost destroyed his political career with his Gallipoli venture – The failed Norwegian invasion was another . Lord Halifax could have emerged as PM and European history would have taken a different course ?

    ”I appreciate your grasp of history Greenflag, you’ve evidently read more books than I’ve touched but this doesn’t add up.’

    History or war time behaviour /policies often don’t add up when the dust has settled and the bodies counted and removed from life -it’s not mathematics – logic and rational behaviour are not always relied on or can be depended on . The Queensberry rules did’n’t always apply and even the Geneva convention got short shrift from some of the participants .


  • Greenflag

    @ AG

    “With regards to the shortsightedness of the unionist leadership, well, you’re unlikely to find a more willing ‘yes man’ on that topic.”

    They are in a place where they can’t win nor can they lose or to be more precise -can’t afford to be seen to lose . Believe it or not I retain a measure of sympathy for some of them .Unlearning is a difficult process and even more so as the political ground underneath undergoes significant demographic change which at least nominally does’nt bode well for any long term future for political unionism in it’s present format . The Alliance Party I believe are more ‘adapted ‘ to the NI political future at least from a less narrow and more tolerant perspective . .

    ‘I despair at the zombie like nature of their politics”

    Some more so than others I’ll presume but then I despair too of our ‘politicians ‘ and by our I mean in Ireland in Britain and in the USA and in the developed world generally at their inability to regulate for or restrain an out of control international financial sector from destroying the world economy and putting at risk what we have left of whats called or used to be called ‘democracy ‘.

    ‘But that doesn’t mean I’ll let nationalism off the hook.’

    Theres ‘nationalism ‘ and ‘nationalism ‘ The extreme forms which took power in the 1930’s in Germany , Italy and Spain etc and later in the Balkans are not the norm . It would be a mistake to interpret all ‘nationalisms ‘ as being alike . Orwell’s essay on the topic was mostly directed at the forms he experienced in the 1930’s and much of what he says re some negative aspects to nationalism remains valid to this day . But in the face of a world and in particular the financial world gone /going berserk on a wave of international financial algorithmic led light speed stock and bond transactions that make billions for hedge funds and banksters then a moderate form of ‘nationalism ‘ may be the only antidote which can reign in the lunatics and vampire squids of Wall St and the City of London . This is a vast topic .If you can get your hands on a Matt Taibi article in Rolling Stone magazine Dec 2014 on how the ‘banksters ‘ have now usurped the world’s commodity markets in their desire for for ever greater profits and power ? Meanwhile our politicians haven’t a clue whats going on in that netherworld and are either bought in or powerless to do anything bar save themselves and their political careers . Sorry for going a little off topic there but thats an area which should concern every voter in every democracy worldwide . Its a subject that concerns me a lot more than the political /economic future of NI .

    ‘to celebrate the Easter Uprising but curse the inception of Northern Ireland is something every self respecting nationalist should address’

    1916 came after 1912 and 1914 came in between and both 1920 and 1922 came after the above three noteworthy events and then there was the 1918 General Election . The 1880’s Home Rule debates were 30 years old by the time 1912 came around .

    I don’t curse the inception of Northern Ireland in 1920 . Had I been around at the time and been a Unionist I too would have ‘feared ‘ becoming a minority in what later proved to be a State unduly under the political influence /interference of the RC Church .More important than that imo would have been the fear of losing trade and export markets for industrial production throughout the then world’s biggest market i.e the British Empire and Commonwealth.

    In retro a 4 county NI probably would have attained greater political stability and perhaps less religious /sectarian intolerance for all of that -who can know ?

    But times change and all we can do is make with what we have in this day and age . Forever digging up the past is no way to secure the future peace and prosperity of all on this island or on the neighbouring island .

    For the record the ‘nationalism ‘ I espouse is not an exclusive ethnic/cultural nationalism which demands uniformity of creed , ethnicity or sense of privilige for any part of the nation but one which accepts all ethnicities be they from the far east (China ) or mid east ( Cracow) or north east (Carrickfergus . The common denominator being that we all live on the island of Ireland regardless of where our ancestors came from or will come from and that our individual tastes and preferences in religion or for no religion , values etc are the individual’s business and so far as is concomitant with public business and good order the state should’nt be involved .

    Unfortunately the State as it currently exists in NI is imo unable to extricate itself by itself from the trap it set itself not just in 1920 but even more so in the decades thereafter in particular during all those decades of zero political opposition which is now being replicated under albeit cross community agreement but still imo not a satisfactory state of affairs but for now it’s all that seems possible .

  • Mc Slaggart


    Statement 1

    “Normally a strict no flag policy is enforced to make sure a supposedly cross-community event is actually a cross-community event.”

    Statement 2
    “I think the designated days approach *does* meet equality standards. ”

    You and alliance think these views are not contradictory but the rest of the UK would not agree. The rest of the UK does have designated days but they also are happy to have the Irish national flag flying on ST Patrick’s day in parades etc. In Belfast it is only the British national flag

  • Greenflag

    @ Kevsterino ,

    I’ve been on slugger long enough to recognise ‘wired to the moon ‘threads when I see them . I notice I did not participate in that one . When they start mentioning the Anti Christ and the Book of Revelations and Numbers -my ears close -my eyes glaze over and I recall the half berserk teacher in school threatening me with everlasting suffering being kebabed over hell fires for not going to church on Sundays or handing in my ecker on time 😉

    Hilarious – I suppose so but also sad that people can be so brainwashed .Of course people are also ‘brain washed ‘ by the constant ‘messaging ‘ of secular society but at least if you consume all the goodies you don’t go to hell but merely become overweight and obese which I suppose is another kind of hell .

    Which is why I’m now off for a 3 mile run .

  • Reader

    Mc Slaggart: The rest of the UK does have designated days but they also are happy to have the Irish national flag flying on ST Patrick’s day in parades etc. In Belfast it is only the British national flag
    I think there were a lot more Tricolours than Union Flags:
    (Why did you jump from Omagh to Belfast?)

  • Greenflag

    Am Ghobsmacht/

    ‘Hence my flirting with the Lundyesque notions.”

    Flirt away AG it’s okay now at least according to the latest news from the DUP spring conference .

    The First Minister Peter Robinson has told members of the DUP they need to seek out converts to unionism.He was speaking at the party’s spring conference in Newcastle on Saturday.

    Mr Robinson said demographic changes could not be wished away and ignoring them would be, what he termed, “constitutionally dangerous”.

    The DUP leader said the test of success for unionist parties would be in stopping to look for Lundies and starting to look for converts.;

    So there you have it -straight from the horse’s /wolf’s / leader’s gob . I’m eh gobsmacked at such a revelation 😉 The Church of Latter Day DUP Unionism going where the previous Church of Former Day’s UUP Unionism failed to go or more precisely fell flat on it’s face when it did .

    Progress of a sort one supposes but I make Mr Robinson’s new found missionary zeal about 65 years too late for political unionism .

    Still it sounds and looks better than the sight and smell of thousands of burning tyres at least to neutral observers and modern day political anoraks .

  • Greenflag
  • Mc Slaggart


    Does Belfast city council own those pubs you posted a link to?

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    You never disappoint.

    Some food for thought there.

  • Greenflag

    AG ,

    Descartes I believe coined the dictum

    Cogito ergo sum

    The GF alternative is

    Cogito ergo I run 🙂

  • zep

    You have to hand it to Billy PIlgrim, urges me to ‘ask away’ on the topic of a UI and then keeps schtum when I do so!