Nationalist Malaise: Facing The Facts

The Irish News yesterday led with the banner headline proclaiming ‘Nationalists turn away from the polls,’ one of the two main stories emerging from the 2015 Westminster election in the north of Ireland- the other being the victories secured by the Ulster Unionist Party in South Antrim and Fermanagh South Tyrone.

The combined Sinn Fein and SDLP percentage of the overall vote was 38.4%, a drop of 3.6% on 2010 and the worst overall showing of nationalists at a Westminster election since before the IRA ceasefire (the 1992 Westminster election.)

This performance was not an outlier either, and that is what should concern the leaderships of both Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

As I will illustrate below, in the current electoral cycle, the combined performance of the two nationalist parties has been the worst at elections to each of the legislative institutions (Westminster, Europe and Local government level) since the ceasefire era of the early to mid-1990s.

That does not bode well for the forthcoming Assembly elections.

There are few things more dangerous for political leaderships than adopting a head in the sand approach when problems become apparent. Denial is never an effective strategy, and inevitably leads only to problems being exacerbated.

In this article, I aim to show in a conclusive manner the extent of the problem needing addressed by the political leaderships of nationalism if they are to arrest the declining nationalist turnout before next year’s Assembly elections.

I heard a commentator remark this morning on BBC Sunday Sequence that the politics of fear had won in England, whilst politics of hope had triumphed in Scotland. By that measure, politics of nationalist apathy in the face of a determined opponent, organized and motivated on a clearly ethnic basis, defined not just the results of this election, but those of recent years.

In a subsequent article, I will examine possible explanations for the malaise and suggestions as to courses of action which should be undertaken by the nationalist parties in order to reconnect and galvanise the nationalists who are presently opting to stay at home.

Westminster Elections

As has already been mentioned, this election saw the combined nationalist parties drop 3.6% in terms of the overall vote, with the 1% decrease in Sinn Fein’s support further compounded by the 2.6% lost by the SDLP since 2010.

History of SF-SDLP Performance in Westminster Elections 1992-2015

Westminster ElectionsSinn Fein (seats)SDLP


Combined Nat % Vote
201524.5% (4)13.9% (3)38.4%
201025.5% (5)16.5% (3)42.0%
200524.3% (5)17.5% (3)41.8%
200121.7% (4)21.0% (3)42.7%
199716.1% (2)24.1% (3)40.2%
199210.0% (0)23.5% (4)33.5%

The loss of Fermanagh South Tyrone provides the most visible evidence of the pattern of declining nationalist turnout and its impact, but there were other clear signs in last week’s election.

The considerable gap opened up over Gerry Kelly by Nigel Dodds in North Belfast, where nationalist % of turnout was down a massive 4.2% on 2010; the failure in Upper Bann to make a credible challenge to the two unionist candidates, with another 4% drop in nationalist turnout; the decreasing nationalist turnout in the South Belfast marginal, held only because the unionist vote split in one too many directions; the drop off in voting nationalists in the majority nationalist constituencies like West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and South Down.

The consistency of the lower turnout in a geographical sense for both parties confirms the fact that there is an issue regarding nationalist turnout which is not constituency-specific.

Across the 18 constituencies, the combined nationalist % of the vote fell in 16 constituencies, increasing by a mere 0.2% in Lagan Valley (from a very low base, at which it remains) and by 2.8% in Foyle. The latter was somewhat misleading as the absence of the People Before Profit candidate, Eamonn McCann, who contested and gained 7.8% in 2010, meant that there was always going to be some additional nationalist votes in play. The fact that the combined nationalist vote increased by only 2.8% indicates that Foyle was actually another constituency where the nationalist turnout was lower, given the high probability that the vast majority of McCann’s voters would be from the broader nationalist community.

SF/SDLP Performance in 2015 by Constituency:

Changes in % Vote Compared to 2010

ConstituencySF Change from 2010SDLP Change from 2010 ConstituencySF Change from 2010SDLP Change from 2010
N Belfast-0.1-4.1 Upper Bann-0.2-3.8
S Belfast+13.9-16.5 Newry & Armagh-0.9+0.7
W Belfast-16.8-6.5 Foyle-0.4+3.2
E Belfast-0.3-0.7 E Derry+0.5-3.2
L Valley-1.1+1.3 W Tyrone-4.9+2.7
N Antrim-0.1-1.8 Ferm S Tyrone-0.1-2.3
S Antrim-1.0-0.5 Mid Ulster-3.3-1.9
E Antrim+0.1-1.7 N Down0.0-1.0
Strangford-1.0+0.2 S Down-0.2-6.1
Sinn Fein-1.0%  SDLP-2.5% 

Sinn Fein’s % of the vote decreased in 15 of the 18 constituencies. In the other three, their vote share increased by a paltry 0.1% in East Antrim, 0.5% in East Derry. The 13.9% increase in South Belfast is misleading as Sinn Fein did not contest the seat in 2010. The 13.9% figure represents only a 1.4% gain from the 2011 Assembly election for the party in South Belfast.

The SDLP % of the vote decreased in 13 of the 18 constituencies. In 3 of the 5 constituencies in which the SDLP registered an increased vote share, the increase was very marginal: +1.3 in Lagan Valley, +0.2 in Strangford and +0.7 in Newry and Armagh.

Only in West Tyrone and Foyle did the vote share increase by greater than 2%- in Foyle, Durkan clearly benefitted from the absence of Eamonn McCann this time around, whilst in West Tyrone the party was coming from such a low base that a 2.7% increase still represents a poor vote share for the SDLP in the constituency.

The impact upon nationalist electoral objectives of the poor turnout can best be gauged by assessing the results by the specific electoral targets of nationalism in general and both parties respectively.

In an earlier article on Slugger, I outlined the ideal outcomes for Nationalism in general for this election, but also the specific targets for both parties.

I will take these in turn below.

Nationalism’s Ideal Outcomes Revisited

8 seats remaining in the hands of Sinn Fein and the SDLP: I identified the nationalist imperatives as holding Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast. The former was lost and the latter barely won, and then only by McDonnell securing the lowest ever % share of the vote for a winning Westminster constituency candidate.

The combined nationalist percentage of the overall vote hitting or exceeding 43% for the first time ever at a Westminster election- or any statewide multi-constituency election: The opposite happened. The nationalist vote slid to just over 38%, representing the lowest combined vote percent share for the two nationalist parties since before the IRA ceasefire (ie 1992 Westminster election.)

The two constituencies of North Belfast and Upper Bann creeping further along the marginal status bar: The opposite happened. The DUP got the unionist vote out in droves in North Belfast, opening up an almost 6,000 vote majority. In Upper Bann, the nationalist vote actually fell in spite of speculation that Seeley could challenge the two unionist contenders, who both managed to push up unionist turnout. In other words, the marginal status of the constituencies did nothing to motivate nationalists to turn out, whilst it did incentivize unionists to turn out.

Large nationalist turnouts in heartland constituencies such as Newry and Armagh, South Down and Foyle would be an indication that both nationalist parties were benefitting from more intelligent candidate selection than was evident in the past: Sinn Fein’s % of the vote declined in all three constituencies. The SDLP suffered a significant 6% loss of vote share in South Down. Whilst the party increased notably in Foyle it rose a disappointing 0.7% in Newry and Armagh, where it had hoped the introduction of a fresh, high profile GAA candidate in the form of Justin McNulty would galvanise its vote base to turn out and signal a return for the party in this one time staunchly SDLP constituency. The 0.7% rise did not indicate that at all.

Local Government Elections

In last year’s local government election, both nationalist parties suffered relative losses in the elections for the newly created 11 District Councils- as I outlined at the time in this Slugger article.

In fact, the combined % of the overall vote registered by the two nationalist parties matched the worst since the 1994 ceasefire, the 1997 elections, as the table below illustrates:

SF-SDLP Performance at Elections to District Councils 1993-2014

ElectionSinn Fein SDLP Comb Nat
 Votes% Votes% %
2014 151,13724.0%  85,23713.5% 37.5%
2011163,71224.8% 99,32515.0% 39.8%
2005163,20523.2% 121,99117.3% 40.5%
2001163,26920.6% 153,42419.4% 40.0%
1997106,93416.9% 130,38720.6% 37.5%
199377,60012.3% 136,76021.7% 34.0%

In real terms, the decreased turnout of nationalists at last year’s local government election resulted in the proportion of seats held by nationalists being reduced for the second consecutive election at this level:

SF-SDLP Total Seats at Elections to District Councils 1989-2014

ElectionTotal SeatsSinn Fein  SDLP Comb Nat
  Seats% of Seats Seats% of Seats Seats% of Seats
201446210522.7% 6614.2% 17137.0%
201158213823.7% 8714.9% 22538.6%
200558212621.6% 10117.3% 22739.0%
200158210818.5% 11720.1% 22538.6%
19975827412.7% 12020.6% 19433.3%
1993582518.7% 12721.8% 17830.5%
1989566437.5% 12121.3% 16428.8%

As the table above illustrates, the high watermark for nationalism at local government election level was 2005, when both the combined % share of votes and % of seats taken by the two parties was at its highest level.

The story since then has been one of increasing apathy, taking its toll on party share of vote and levels of representation at local government level.

NI Assembly Elections

Similarly, the combined % vote share of both parties at the 2011 Assembly election represented a decline of 0.3% from 2007, and the number of nationalist MLAs elected decreased from 44 to 43, as the table below illustrates:

SF-SDLP Performance at Elections to the NI Assembly 1998-2011

ElectionSinn Fein SDLP Comb Nat
 Votes%Seats Votes%Seats %Seats

The high watermark for nationalism at Assembly level was in 2007, when 44 MLAs were returned on a combined % share of the vote sitting at 41.4%.

The 38.4% vote share returned by Sinn Fein and the SDLP at Thursday’s Westminster election is worse than any result recorded at Assembly level since the establishment of the Assembly in 1998, and if repeated next year would likely lead to a loss in the combined number of seats and certainly would scupper the efforts to target additional seats for either party.

European Elections

In keeping with the theme identified above at elections to all other legislatures, the history of nationalist performance at European elections once again shows that the 2014 performance was the worst since before the 1994 IRA ceasefire, coming in 0.2% below the mark reached by both parties in 1994:

SF-SDLP Performance at Elections to the European Parliament 1994-2014

ElectionSinn Fein SDLP Comb Nat
 Votes%Votes% %

It’s the Turnout, Stupid

For those unionist politicians and commentators who could read the above and be at risk of losing the run of themselves by suggesting the election results of recent years indicate that nationalists are converting to unionism, the 1999 European election, and that era in general, are instructive.

The remarkable performance in 1999, when John Hume and Mitchel McLaughlin combined to secure 45.4% of the overall vote, represented the highest point ever reached at election level for combined nationalist support in the history of the state.

It also clearly indicated that nationalist turnout was running considerably above that of unionists, and that fact, coupled with many Alliance voters opting to support John Hume (Alliance secured a notably paltry 2.1% of the vote), explains the extraordinary vote share reached by nationalism in 1999.

It is worth remembering that this period in time was noted by the fierce party competition that existed between Sinn Fein and the SDLP, with the former chasing the latter, buoyed by the shock Forum showing in 1996, then the double MP success of 1997 and a strong Assembly vote and seat tally in 1998. The SDLP were also on a high, having topped the 1998 Assembly poll and appearing well up for the fight with a younger Sinn Fein.

Consequently, both parties were highly motivated and proving adept at energizing their voters to turn out, which explained the 42.7% nationalist turnout at the next significant election after the 1999 European election, namely the 2001 Westminster election, which formally marked Sinn Fein’s arrival as the ascendant party within nationalism.

The problem for both parties is that the period of time that has passed since has been one increasingly marked in an electoral sense by growing numbers of nationalists simply deciding to stay at home.

In contrast, political unionism’s torturous efforts to grapple with the realities of sharing Northern Ireland in a post-Good Friday Agreement world has had the knock-on effect of ensuring that a greater proportion of unionists remain electorally active, encouraged by the communal drum beating from Twaddell and rallied by the mobilising drive accompanying the call for ethnic electoral pacts.

For many years, voter apathy was viewed as a problem facing the SDLP alone, as the Sinn Fein vote appeared to be holding and even marginally increasing. But this election cycle proves beyond doubt that the problem is one shared by both parties.

Recognising that fact is the first step in planning effective strategies to address it.






  • P Bradley

    obviously there is no politics outside of East of the Bann, at least for Alliance. Must explain why the Alliance posters in Derry said “Vote Alliance no 1”

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Actually I think it’s SF who are in trouble. Their aggression in trying to push the expansion of Casement is p’ing off some parts of their base in a big way, and I’m sure some of these people switched to Carroll as a way to send a message.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    That’s all he needs to take an assembly seat.

  • Robin Keogh

    Hi Murdock, I think you might be mistaken in your view that there is no interest in a united Ireland. For sure there is little sign of a debate coming up in the absence of a referndum debate and the concentration on economic growth and fiscal stability, however that does not mean that unity has fallen completly from the the minds of many nationalists. In the most recent survey conducted by lucid talk the question oif Irish Unity was posed (in a very peculiar manner)

    Do u want a united ireland now? In twenty years? never? The question in no way resembles what a typical referendum question might be however we can look at the numbers to get some indication. 5.7% said they wanted Unity now, 24% said in twenty years, 44.1% said never and 26.3% said the had no opinion or would not vote. If you add the two first figures you could arguably claim that 29.7 % of people are at least warm to the notion of a United ireland while at 44.1%, the no side is a bit away from the magic 50.1% mark. If you look down the figures into the 18 to 24 yr age group the numbers change significantly. 12.2% would like it now, 27.8% in twenty years, 36.6% said no, 23.4% have no opinion or would not vote. Here we can suggest that 40% are warm to the idea giving them a lead over the no side.

    While these figures are far from where they need to be to secure unity comfortably, they suggest a good staring point before a referendum has even triggered a debate.

  • Glenn Clare

    Car crash policies and economics, Sinn Fein/IRA’s hazzard lights might be on but their’s doubt if there’s anyone in???

    Don’t send your child to a aspirational grammar schools, the shinners/provos want to stop aspiration and tax the middle earners to pay for the poor’s credit cards. If you can’t afford your mortgage don’t worry about the legally binding agreement you have with the lender the middle class taxpayer will pay your mortgage. If your looking to become a public servant, don’t expect to get more than the average industrial wage, I take it that will include teachers???

    Sinn Fein/IRA’s plan is to grow the national debt so our children and our children’s children can pay for it and all the children will be poor. I’m sure they will all laugh at that prospect from their new lives in the UK, America, Australia etc etc……

    All in all the place Sinn Fein/IRA want to create even those from North Korea would think twice about coming to.

    After hearing all this here’s hoping they get power in the south of Ireland.

  • Cavignac

    The Conservative Party had a “good” election? They came last in most seats they contested….

  • Robin Keogh

    I reckon the actual real loyalist rioting might be scaring off your business buddies.

  • kensei

    I think that’s truth mixed with party political optimism. As Chris is not shy of pointing out, nationalists in predominately Unionist areas are not well served by the Nationalist parties and I think there are votes for SDLP/SF, certainly at Assembly or Council elections. People also act differently depending on what they think the result will be; even if a Nationalist candidate winning a seat is credible, people mightn’t realise it. But I’m a great believer in base and history counting for a lot, and Alliance certainly has that in those areas and neither party (or FF or anyone else that might fancy it) is going to walk in.

    I think the North Belfast point is pure wishful thinking. North Belfast is Belfast: this is as urban and metropolitan as it gets here, and there is a section of the nominally Nationalist electorate there for the taking. I don’t believe for a second they are the same people that voted Alliance in the 80s, or for the same reasons. They are younger, more liberal and want to make a statement. I find them fairly insufferable but YMMV. But winning here won’t help you West of the Bann – that’s different dynamics.

  • kensei

    Pls take pills before posting kthanxbye.

  • Reader

    The Drumcree effect is wearing off. Cakes, Flegs and the Famine song are no substitute. For nationalists, the Westminster election really is a bit of a sideshow, and even the Assembly election may not be that big a deal: with the DUP having demonstrated the mechanism of the petition of concern (which works both ways); and with both nationalist parties trumpeting progressive politics [both! Bad move, tactically] without any sign that they can deliver.
    Our local politics has finally created the Garden Centre CNR.

  • puffen

    How can anyone with a Social Conscience, advocate saddling their children with their debt, only the feckless, we and the Bankers partied, time we paid up, before we depart the scene,

  • kensei

    The status quo has an in-built advantage. Just grinding down all sens of progress to create apathy works for Unionism and they’ve very effectively killed anything SF want.

    It kind of screws everyone though; the result is nothing gets done. few seats here or there at the Assembly is really going to make bugger all difference to anyone – nationalists will have at worst one less ministry and the same power to kill legislation. I can’t see how it doesn’t collapse on this model, medium term.

    I also kind of worry an EU out vote is liable to send this place bananas again.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I’m with Cavignac on this. Losing 15 out of 16 deposits isn’t a particularly good election. I suppose it could have been 16 out of 16…

  • Glenn Clare

    So you disagree with my post, then argue the points that the shinner/provo was making. Sounds like they are trying to create a former soviet state economically in the south of Ireland. As far as I’m concerned I hope they go for it. You get the politicians you vote for and I hope the south of Ireland vote these basket cases in.

    Fiscal policy Sinn Fein/IRA style all former prisoners are now all community workers on €75,000, giving €50,000 to the party as they can only get the average industrial wage. Anyone over the average industrial wage will start paying income tax at 40%, to pay for the poor’s credit cards, pensions and large families. As for the work shy they can still have their benefits, they don’t even need to bother to go to sign on. And as for the health service, we can send them to Northern Ireland.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I also worry about what an EU out vote would do to NI; and indeed a complete reordering of the internal architecture of the UK towards a loose confederation even while remaining in the EU.

  • puffen

    Evolution the natural order of the universe, should frighten no one, Gerry, as a Unionist I would welcome it ,

  • Gerry Lynch

    But that doesn’t add up – the SDLP did get a political base in most of these areas in the late 1990s and even SF did in a few, and then it disappeared again.

    There’s doubtless a bit of party political optimism/hope up there, but we’d all be lost without it. But face facts, SDLP/SF strategy for reunification, such as it is, is entirely based on wishful thinking – all “we” need to do, apparently, is clockwatch and wait to outbreed the huns and a successful border poll will just happen automatically. In reality, 13% of Catholics describe themselves as British and a hell of a lot more just don’t think the sums for reunification add up. It’s revealing that at present the Nationalist twitterati are waiting for Scottish people to deliver their objectives for them – this is an ideology that knows, in its heart of hearts, that it can’t remotely deliver what are supposed to be its cardinal aims.

    How many Unionists have been convinced of the merits of reunification by Nationalist politicians in the past 93 years? Does that number even reach triple digits? And this isn’t surprising when even people who SDLP or SF aren’t necessarily convinced of its merits.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I’d like to welcome the reordering of the UK’s internal architecture. As a taxpayer in England, I’m quite happy with devo max all round, English votes for English laws and a de facto confederation.

    I’m just not sure Northern Ireland can cope with external shocks.

  • puffen

    After 100 years I reckon it is about time the the architecture was changed, which is what gives the structure its strength, flexibility, as for Northern Ireland, I think we will cope, the pps, are ahead of the Politicians on this,

  • Gopher

    Agnew won a seat in North Down with 2200 votes the Conservatives have a base to do that now . North Down, Strangford (2137) and East Belfast are pretty good foundations . So I would argue mission accomplished for 2016

  • kensei

    Now you’re off on a tangent. If you read my post above, I entirely that republican needs to go back to first principles and come up with something new. No argument at all.

    But in the mid 1990s the demographic argument was in play, whether you agree it was a good idea or not. Nationalism made a lot of forward progress in various areas. It’s taken to now for that to really burn itself out. That happens in politics, ideas linger past sense or use. I suspect it’ll still take a properly bad defeat rather than a warning shot for it to be fully recognised and for things to really change.

  • Gopher

    Well I would just like to know the where the 73,963 new eligible voters came from. Have the people who moved here from abroad and taken up UK citizenship?

  • kensei

    A Brexit potentially means border checkpoints again. It smashes the “sure we are all European and the border is not really there” thing that acts as a calming influence. It could give a nasty shock to the economy North and South. It allows the worst type of Unionist “foreign country” rhetoric to start flying again. The Tories are already liable to monkey with Human Rights legislation, it removes that whole defence completely. it potentially turns the UK dangerously inwards. There are so many unknowns, and it only takes a small part of the populace to cause trouble.

    I think it won’t happen. I’m just not sure.

  • Reader

    kensei: I can’t see how it doesn’t collapse on this model, medium term.
    Maybe not everyone wants change as much as you want change?
    While I would like to see some more competence, integrity and liberalism, I’m not going to try to bring down the assembly over it. Where’s the critical mass for either (1) chaos or (2) direct rule?

  • puffen

    UK will not be leaving EU, a fudge will be found, calm down,

  • kensei

    There will a referendum. That’s lit a fire and it will be difficult to control.

  • kensei

    It’s not a matter of wanting change or not. The Assembly cannot dysfunction forever. It either changes or reforms to something functional or it will eventually hit an external or internal problem it cannot cope with, and it’ll collapse.

    Welfare reform threatens it.

  • puffen

    Even if the UK where to leave the EU, there would be no return to Customs, free trade is an article of faith with swivel headed loons,

  • puffen

    The Magna Carta will do for me.

  • kensei

    Who knows what happens in that event?

    Like I said, i don’t think it’ll happen and i don’t think it’ll be close. I didn’t think Scottish independence would touch nearly 45% either though, and just the thought of it makes me nervous.

  • puffen

    As for SNP, if they do not make a move soon their goose will be cooked, the demographics in Scotland will change, with the younger population becoming middle aged and boring, though I am going through a mid life crises, so you never know,

  • kensei

    It’s important for you that heirs may be given in marriage, but not to those of lower social standing?

    I’d rather modern rights, thank you.

  • puffen

    I am all for my kids marrying for dosh, pay for my Nursing Home

  • Outside observer

    Going to cast your vote is all about incentive.

    So lets think about Sean from Dungannon, Maire from Lisburn or Gearoid from Downpatrick.

    They are Catholic consider themselves Irish, may even have an Ireland passport. The only team they support and would ever consider supporting is the Ireland one. They have no doubt, none about there ethnic identity. They are Irish. They are degree educated, have a good middle class income, enjoy travelling, savvy on social media and interested in global events.

    Crucially their job is working for the British state or funded by the British state.

    This profile fits tens of thousands of Catholics living in Northern Ireland.

    They have voted in the past as they had issues they wanted addressed. They wanted reform of sectarian policies or practices, they wanted to be held equal before the law and they want a police service that was fair to them.

    They have got it.

    They would theoretically like a United Ireland but they are smart and worldly enough to know its highly unlikely to happen. And if there is a border referendum they would probably vote and vote for a united Ireland.

    But they would be horrified if they realised their one vote was the vote that resulted in a victory for nationalism.

    Ok from these tens of thousands of Catholics all over the north who are they going to vote for.

    DUP – No chance

    UUP – Still too Britiish

    ALL – They would feel a little bit disloyal to their ethnicity to vote Allliance

    SF – Used to vote for them but wish they would stop obsessing about something that wont change – ie the border.

    SDLP – Feels they are a bit leaderless and soft also not all that comfortable with their lefty tendencies.

    So lets go back to incentives. What possible incentive will prompt Sean from Dungannon, Maire from Lisburn or Gearoid from Downpatrick to make the actual trip to the polling station to vote. None.
    They even intended to vote – still weren’t sure if it would be SF or SDLP but they had ever plan to vote. In the back of their mind they were slightly disappointed that they haven’t met either.
    Then on the day they were busy and just never quite got around to popping into the polling station.
    Why – because there was no compelling incentive to do so.
    You see Republics were beaten by the British. Republicans were utterly and comprehensively the losers. But Nationalists like our profile above it was they that ‘won the war’. They have what they wanted, see not threat to their gains and have no party they can vote for who will either build on their gains or another party who plans just to secure those gains.
    Peace has not made Unionists more amenable to a United Ireland it has made Nationalist more content with the Union.
    Electorates don’t like huge changes they get scared. Look at the recent independence referendum in Scotland – these people are clear about what they aren’t but scared enough to not want a change that will impact on them.
    Until a third party appears which targets and appeals to middle class nationalism, a sort of “Green Alliance”, then the slide will continue. Catholics will continue to become more middle class and therefore more content with the Union.

  • james

    Both, I’d say. But then I’m not sectarian in my thinking, nor am I forgiving of evil on either side. Fact remains, Sinn Fein have always fed off destruction and bitterness and will always be enthusiastic creators of both.

  • You only have to watch Sunday Politics today and don’t have to wonder about why nationalists are turning off. This is the leadership

  • Robin Keogh

    Thats the root of your problem, forgive nothing remember everything. Gets us nowhere

  • Dan

    So, just continue to hand over the billions to the politburo every year then?

  • steve white

    seems SDLP didn’t et their vote ou more so then SF
    who did NI21 supporters vote for?

  • murdockp

    Re unification? When was ireland unified previously as an indepednent nation state other than when she was fully controlled by the English.

    Strange comment.

  • puffen

    If Scotland were to go for Independence, could we see a new Plantation of Scottish Unionists

  • Granni Trixie

    Sorry to be picky Gerry,but For accuracy I do not thnk you have timeline quite right – immediately post Alderdice – a low moment indeed- we took time out to embark on a self examination process leading to an action plan. We certainly knew then what we were for and where we were going so I do not agree with this part of your analysis.
    I personally put the revival in our fortunes since then as down to the leadership of DF and SF . Anna and Naomi are of course the icing n the cake.

  • Glenn Clare

    The newly elected shinner/provo MP, today had spent so much time filling in DHSS and DoW&P claim forms. He now believes that helping people fill in welfare forms means he is the shinner/provo MP in perpetuity.

  • notimetoshine

    “I get the impression nationalist and republican representatives just do not work as hard for their people as they used to (maybe wrong but my honest impression).”

    I think you are on to something here. I live in Warrenpoint in what could rightly be considered SDLP heartland and the absence of SDLP activity close to the election was astonishing. Several family members remarked on the lack of posters and canvassers. We had not one to the door over the course of the election. I don’t know if this was arrogance or complacency or a mixture of both. However what I do know is this put off quite a few traditional SDLP voters from turning out on the day.

    This may help explain their reduced showing in south down. They will have to get their act together for next year and stop treating their heartlands with such disrespect.

  • John Collins

    Having listened to the acceptance speeches of Tom Elliott, Gavin Robinson and Nigel Dodds the other night it could be said that no side has a monopoly on ‘pure unadulterated hate’

  • Gaygael

    Gerry was unequivocal on this point a number of times. He’s not a nationalist nor a unionist, he’s a socialist.
    I fully imagine he will designate as other.

  • Slater

    Simple. Over 100,000 people have immigrated to Northern Ireland in the last few years.

  • barnshee

    where are they where is your evidence?

  • Roger

    I don’t agree. When the former Sudan recently split up, people adapted to there being a Sudan and a South Sudan overnight. There’s a Samoa and an American Samoa, a Solomon Islands and an island chain, a Virginia and a West Virginia etc. All perfectly well understood. The former Ireland or island of Ireland if you like has been split for nearly a century. I think it’s past time we moved on in much the same way. I’m not alone of course. The Queen’s talk in Dublin of her first visit to Ireland is a good example.

  • Roger

    Strictly speaking, neither international law nor the international community has any bearing on what I said. Ireland didn’t declare itself a republic in 1949. This is so regardless of what the effects were of the steps it took that year.

  • Roger


  • JohnTheOptimist

    Chris Donnelly has produced a brilliant analysis of the recent decline in the nationalist vote. Its a bit unfortunate that something similar wasn’t published before Thursday’s election, since the decline became very apparent at last year’s Euro election. If it had, there wouldn’t have been the unrealistic expectation that the nationalist vote was going to exceed 43 per cent on Thursday.

    There are two main reasons for the recent decline in the nationalist vote.

    First, the perception that the ROI economy was performing badly in comparison with the UK economy. In so far as this is a factor, it is likely to be reversed in coming years. Since 1958 the ROI economy has on average grown at almost twice the rate of the UK economy (roughly 4.5% pa versus 2.4% pa). However, there were two periods when the UK economy performed better: 1982-1986 and 2007-2011. Between 1959 and 1982, and again between 1987 and 2007, the ROI economy grew much faster than the UK economy almost every year. This was enough to make the ROI a wealthier country (based on GNI per capita) than the UK. By, 2007 it was approximately 10% wealthier. The ROI then slipped back so that by 2011 both countries were virtually level in terms of GNI per capita. Since 2012 the ROI economy has again been growing faster. All the signs are that it will continue to do so for the next few years and beyond and virtually all economic forecasts (OECD, EU Commission etc) predict this.. Within the next couple of years the gap in terms of GNI per capita (in the ROI’s favour) will exceed its previous 2007 peak. It is not unrealistic to expect GNI per capita in the ROI to be 15% higher than that in the UK by the end of this decade.

    Some of the legacy of the period 2007-2011 is still with us, in that unemployment and debt are both higher in the ROI. However, the gap with the UK in both these is now narrowing rapidly. The ROI’s budget deficit this year will be under half that in the UK. Net debt as a percentage of GNI in the ROI is predicted to fall below that of the UK towards the end of this decade.

    Claims that N. Ireland enjoys better public services as a result of being in the UK have little basis in fact. As a spin-off from its higher economic growth, ROI has surpassed N. Ireland in both health and education. Life expectancy in ROI went above that in N. Ireland about a decade ago and is now approximately one year higher. Since the late 1990s mortality rates for all age-groups have fallen much more in ROI than in N. Ireland and are now around 5%-6% lower. In the 2012 PISA tests, the ROI outperformed N. Ireland (and indeed all the UK countries) in every subject and for both genders.

    Second, many fiscally and socially conservative nationalists have been alienated by the left-wing economic policies and social liberalism of the two nationalist parties. It is absurd to think that the nationalist community in N. Ireland is the only community in Europe that doesn’t have a significant proportion of its population that supports conservative economic and social policies. It is quite apparent that SF’s support for abortion hit their vote badly in rural Ulster. Its vote in mid-Ulster was down 5.2 per cent. In the recent Stormont vote not a single nationalist AM voted against gay marriage. I am not saying that the entire nationalist population are opposed to gay marriage. But, a significant proportion are – maybe 30%, maybe 40%, who knows? – and this significant proportion are currently totally unrepresented by SF and the SDLP.

    During the last period when the ROI was economically outperforming the UK (1986-2007), the nationalist vote in N. Ireland soared. The same can happen again. But, not if nationalism is represented only by SF (with its loopy marxist economic agenda and extreme social liberalism) and the SDLP (with its soft-left social democratic ideology that is in electoral decline all over Europe). What is needed is a new nationalist party, that supports sensible free market economic policies of the type that drove the Republic’s 1986-2007 boom and which are driving its current post-2011 boom, and that adopts a moderately conservative position on social issues in keeping with the traditions of both communities in N. ireland.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The demographic determinists, who believed that the rising Catholic share of the population would inevitably mean an increased Nationalist vote share

    Still do, and it still does. What it does not mean is that SF and SDLP are destined to increase their vote share continuously.

    The problem is that every time someone invents a new party and puts up a candidate, the percentage vote of the major parties goes down. The percentages gained by these parties are frequently derisory, but still serve to prevent any visible rise in the vote of the major parties.

    However, when we are faced with a PR election, these submerged votes often emerge.

    So the Nationalist vote, in PR elections, ultimately includes someone who, after voting 1) Cannabis is safer than Alcohol, 2) People before Profit, 3) Workers’ Party, 4) Green, and 5) Alliance, is finally faced with a choice between UUP and SDLP and gives their last choice to the SDLP. Curiously, some of the UKIP vote also ends up on the Nationalist side.

  • Roger

    Agreed. I’d hate to vote for SF and I’m not left wing either so the choices wouldn’t be great.

  • There is no “malaise” about the fact that voters are not electing to choose, in ever greater numbers, either of the overt nationalism promoted by Sinn Féin, or the SDLP, at the expense of actual policy development.
    Any discomfort felt will be among supporters of either party that they have not secured more votes.
    I suspect the greater discomfort will be among those who subscribed to the “inexorable rise” narrative of one of those parties…
    The people have spoken, the bastards.
    If you want to learn, learn from that fact.

  • Glenn Clare

    “not if nationalism is represented only by SF (with its loopy marxist economic agenda and extreme social liberalism) and the SDLP (with its soft-left social democratic ideology that is in electoral decline all over Europe). What is needed is a new nationalist party, that supports sensible free market economic policies”

    “and that adopts a moderately conservative position on social issues in keeping with the traditions of both communities in N. ireland”.

    You can’t say that you will be made to remove the article and made to make a full and graveling apology.

    As for Unionists the one surefire way to get the electorate out is to turn the election in Fermanagh South Tyrone into a Bobby Sands, love in. In North Belfast it’s driving around and seeing Gerry Kelly’s grinning face looking down at you. And in general the Sinn Fein/IRA rape cover up’s, murder’s and there cover ups and the kangaroo courts, when we were told the IRA did not exist. And when you add all the rank hypocrisy from all the shinner/provo leadership. You end up with the perfect electoral storm for Unionists, and out they come to vote, “X”.

    Take for instance two days before the polls open we had republicans eulogising all over our TV’s and radios. On how a dedicated innocent family man and community worker, was shot in cold blood on his way to work, and of course the ubiquitous he was highly respected in his community.

    However, the truth and the facts told a different story, about this Sinn Fein/IRA commander. All their eulogizing did a few days before the polls opened was to reaffirm the shinners/provos are still the same as they have always been and to be honest it didn’t hamper getting the Unionist vote out.

    And finally when you hear the likes of Sinn Fein/IRA’s Chris Hazzard on the radio telling everyone about the republican economic plan, even the poorest Unionist on benefits knew that they were barking mad. Their message that they were going to stop welfare cuts because “they” were going to negotiate with the government was complete and utter bollox. No bombs, no guns no leverage.

  • Sharpie

    The SDLP is still caught in the catholic and post-catholic chasm. Most catholics / former catholics are trying to work out their relationship to the church and are caught swaying between moral relativism and orthodoxy. The recent debates on institutional abuse, equal marriage, abortion all weigh heavily. There is a liberal tendency among many younger people or travelled people and a conservatism among the traditionalists. That means there are Catholics who sympathise with Jim Wells and those who despair and don’t want to be seen dead supporting Alisdair’s take on abortion. Maybe it means the monolith is dead – there is space, demand, and appetite for smaller parties closer to their favourite topic of concern but who are expected to cooperate on bigger issues. Its like us currently having a dozen ways to watch media – smart telly, satellite, tablet, mobile, lap-top and so on, compared to only having four channels and a vhs player. So we have a demand for more instantly accessible politics consumed in lots of different ways –, 38 degrees, on-line petitions etc.
    Can politics cope? Can a political movement morph to capture this way of working and capture the imagination of politics as ideas rather than two-tone, binary society.

  • Zeno

    “In the most recent survey conducted by lucid talk the question oif Irish Unity was posed (in a very peculiar manner)”

    Robin the question was posed that way to draw out all possible support. It’s called a soft option question in polling. If you ask the 20 year people the same question in 20 years time they will more than likely opt for United Ireland 20 years further in the future.

  • james

    400 years of oppression?

  • Zeno

    Maybe people are starting to catch on to Sinn Fein and that explains their poor showing in recent Elections? They seem to be trying to position themselves as the party for the poor and working classes. But, they want to cut Corporation Tax and reward already wealthy profitable businesses. That puts them to the right of the Tories. They have signed up to borrow £700 million to cut 20,000 Irish/North of Ireland jobs. Or maybe people just realise that all they can offer is more eye poke politics.

  • Croiteir

    Gerry – I am also worrying about the effect of Cameron exiting the Council of Europe and the ECHR. This totally undermines if not breaches the GFA. If it is in breach this means that the British have broken an international treaty, in that scenario all bets are of and we could spin into turmoil yet again.

  • Colin Lamont

    I tallied my own ballot box (Gardenmore Pres) at the Valley on Thurs night. I’d say this area of Larne is about a third catholic. From what I remember SDLP were on 10%, Sinn Fein about half that. I was surprised the Nat total was so low, but it fits with what you are saying.
    Other East Antrim observations: UKIP did really well in some of the boxes, especially those from Carrick. Alliance’s best vote I saw was from Whitehead. I’ve never done this before and I’m amazed how party support can fluctuate so wildly across micro areas. Nothing wrong with election nerdery Gerry!

  • I guess, in your case, Irish nationalism in the north lacks an overtly conservative party, or at least a party that claims to be somewhere to the right of social democracy.

    The SDLP, of course, soaks up the so-called middle-class ‘castle Catholic’ support, but that’s because they’ve no other option. A northern Fine Gael-type outfit could possibly fill that vacuum.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Roger for putting me right on that one. I’d not realised that international law, perhaps even law itself, are such an utter irrelevance!

    Until 1949 the British Monarchy acted on Ireland’s behalf in international affairs. No matter how slight this presence was in the reality of Ireland’s political life, the British Monarchy still had a legally defined constitutional role in Ireland. Accordingly, if Ireland was a “Republic” before 1948, as Dev claimed it was, it was a Republic that continued to have a constitutional monarchy! Forgive me for being a little pedantic here, but I’d always believed that a “Republic” and a “Constitutional Monarchy” were mutually exclusive! Ireland may have de facto developed the characteristics of a republic even before the outbreak of the Emergency, but, de jure, the continuing role of the British Monarchy meant that it was not a Republic. Nit picking, yes, but nit picking that is not without some significance……..

    The wording of the act rather bears me out too, I think:

    “The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948. An Act to repeal the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936, to declare that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland, and to enable the President to exercise the executive power or any executive function of the state in or in connection with its external relations.”

    Of the three things that were enacted, the second is clearly “to declare that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland”. Before that date it was “The Irish Free State”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And who, Jag, is withdrawing or permitting these aspects of soverignty? What you are actually speaking of is relative control of affairs, such as occurs where power is devolved from some higher authority.

    Perhaps it might help to define soverignty:

    “Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

    The existence of interference from outside sources or bodies means that the national government no longer holds such “soverignty” (Supreme authority) in its affairs, but is dependant on a higher authority which now exercises that soverignty over it. In the case of Ireland this is the EEC. That such a body can hold a national government to account may be a good thing in that it may inhibit democracies from acting in a foolish manner, as you state, but it means that you cannot speak of such national governments as continue in a subsidurary role within the EEC as exercising any degree of soverignty, something that only exists where such control cannot be exercised.

  • mjh

    Will they stand? I thought their policy was to avoid Assembly elections, as they did last time.

  • pearse mcaleese

    slugger,how do you come up with this crap,oh thats right,the irish indenpenant writes the articles for you.elliot beat Michelle Gildeenew by just over five hundred vote,if this is the best they can do after a combinded effort from the dup,uup and sdlp,then id hardly call it a victory,infact after an onslaught from you and your cohorts in the south,and the combind unionists/sdlp onslaught,id say sinn fein polled dam well!!also fermanagh south tyrone has an up and coming young population that in the next fivr years will be of voting age,while the unionist populztion in this area have an older population.Five hundred unionist votes are going to disappear very quickly and Fermanagh /south Tyrone will be Bobby Sands seat once again!

  • Paddy Reilly

    Interesting, but this only applies to FPTP elections: in PR ones the distinction between a SDLP voter and an Alliance one are only in the order of preference. I never believed that Oliver McMullen could be elected for Sinn Féin in East Antrim, but he was: this must mean that the Larne SDLP voters gave their 2nd and 3rd preferences to him, whilst the Glensmen gave him their first.

  • barnshee

    Elliot etc are not standing in the ROI

  • Roger

    Again, what you’ve said, however articulate it may be, is completely irrelvant. We are discussing a narrow question. Did Ireland adopt a “Declaration” in 1949 about its being a republic? I think you agree that the answer is no. Whether the country became a republic that year is an entirely separate question.

    One correction on your analysis though: You are wrong that up to the RoI Act becoming effective, “The Irish Free State” was the State’s description. That terminology fell away entirely when the Constitution became law in 1937.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You are perfectly right, Roger, on the all important point that both popular “names” people commonly use are actually descriptions of the State rather than the name of the country, which was constitutionally stated to be “Ireland /Éire”. However, I still contend that whatever the description may have been, in strictly legal terms Ireland could only be considered a Republic when the role of the Crown was finally revoked by enacted law in 1948. Legally speaking “Ireland /Éire” was in a liminal condition from 1937-48. The 1937 constitution nowhere uses the term “Republic” as a description of the state, and the status of the President of Ireland, or for that matter the King, is nowhere made clear in the constitution. Neither is recognised as “head of state”! It is only with the 1948 law that the term Republic is unambiguously applied to “Ireland /Éire”. Thank you for holding me to proper account on this!

  • Dexter

    The reality is this;

    1. SF have not understood some of the more conservative elements of Nationalism and republicanism
    2. SF plateaued and are now declining in the north because those who have voted for them since the ceasefires and GFA are less than impressed with a number of aspects of the party-
    (i) child abuse scandals and the party’s handling of same
    (ii) nonsensical and/or non-existent economic policies
    (iii) MLAs who are not fit for purpose and appear to have been given jobs by their mates from the war
    (iv) poor performances from individual Ministers, including court criticism of them
    (v) a complete lack of progress (in fact a regression) on the north-south section/agenda of the GFA. (I would consider myself as relatively politically aware. I see and hear nothing of note on the economic and structural front indicating any progression whatsoever towards the ultimate goal)
    (vi) a perception (reality) that DUP and SF are unashamedly carving up every vestige of influence (and money) in this statelet to feather their own nests.
    3. A number of examples of the so-called crack negotiators of SF having their eyes wiped.
    4. SDLP are treading water. They are being supported by those who simply will never vote SF.
    5. Alisdair McDonnell- grumpy, ill-prepared and divisive
    6. SDLP seem ambivalent about reunification.
    7. SDLP have a lack of vision and overarching purpose. For example, Alban Magennis floundered on radio when asked to point to specific differences from SF- one would have anticipated that this was an answer taught by HQ and learned by rote by MLAs.

    SF need a total clean sweep of the old guard. Anyone remotely connected with the war or abuse scandals needs to fade into the background. Every time a legacy issue is raised, the identity and history of current SFers mean that their opponents shoot the messengers- this lessens the chance of legacy matters being dealt with properly and expeditiously. Ultimately, Fianna Fail were able to clean off the legacy of a bloody conflict from their hands. But it took time.

    Both SDLP and SF should remember the ultimate aim(s) about which they now seem ambivalent. They should look across the North Channel to the SNP’s positive, peaceful, grassroots campaign for independence.

    We have the southern economy on the up. We have Dublin attracting huge investment. We have thousands of FDR companies. We have 66% private sector in the south, 66% public sector in the north. The public sector is about to be decimated in the north- dictated by the tories and cheer-led by the DUP.

    The southern economy should, over the next few years, become a hugely more attractive option to the basket case in the north.

    Lets have proper campaigning and persuasion by SF and SDLP for unity by consent. The prize is still achieveable. But you’ve got to be in to win.

  • Colin Lamont

    I don’t think he did well out of SDLP or Alliance transfers at all, especially in Larne. He was elected on the back of a good turnout in the Glens, relatively speaking for East Antrim, which were transferred in on boundary changes. Regarding Larne specifically, he gets a good vote in Carnlough and not bad in Glenarm. Not much elsewhere.

  • Roger

    You begin by saying I am right. But then go on to say I am right about things I’ve never said. I’m not sure if you’ve accepted my point that Ireland never declared itself a republic in 1949. Or that the name Irish Free State had no standing from 1937. There certainly isn’t a state named “Ireland/Éire” either! But it was a pleasure to hold you to proper account either way.

  • Roger

    I would not use ‘castle Catholic’ the way you have.
    Things have changed but taking the long view people in Ireland mostly voted for FF and FG. Are/were they “somewhere to the right of social democracy”? I’m just asking on that one.
    Hardly surprising that a lot of middle-class Catholics vote SDLP when the only other ‘green’ choice is SF, which remains SF/IRA in the minds of many people like me. I am middle class.

  • Well that’s my point, for that small ‘c’ conservative niche in the Irish nationalist electorate, there could be an Irish conservative party, possibly combining neo-liberalism and social conservatism.

    This would make us somewhat similar to Basque and Catalan nationalist parties with their conservative and left-wing options.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Roger, the actual legal situation about all these things seems terminally confusing. I know, of course, that these legalistic ambiguities evolved to avoid the kind of clash with the grown and the Imperial Parliament that the anti-treaty supporters demanded (for Irelands honour!) in 1922!

    But. yes, I agree that you are perfectly correct in explaining that the names popularly used for the Irish state are “descriptions” of the state. However, all that I’ve gleaned otherwise, after reading your postings and again looking at both the 1948 act and the 1937 constitution (and its amendments) is that nothing can be categorically stated by anyone without possible informed challenge, and that the entire period between 1937 and 1948, when Ireland could unambiguously be described as a “Republic” (it you were viewing these things from an Irish perspective, but not from a Westminster perspective), was highly, and intentionally, confusing. But thank you for taking the trouble to explain your understanding of all of this which has encouraged me to look again and to see just how ambitious it all is!

  • Roger

    “there could be an Irish conservative party” – Don’t such parties already exst? FF, FG? Isn’t it that they just don’t contest elections in Northern Ireland?