How Republican intransigence drove boost in Unionist turnout (and flattened its own)

So shortly I will be wrapping the proverbial wet towel on my head for my customary post election analysis for most of the major parties in NI and GB.

To keep you going in the meantime, here’s the start of my OpEd analysis for the Irish Independent on how SF’s intransigence over parades in North Belfast drove the unionist vote upwards:

I’ve lost count of the number of Northern Ireland media commentators who regularly and spontaneously burst into laughter at the mere mention of Peter Robinson’s “graduated unionist response” promised over the parading stand off over the Ardoyne shops in North Belfast.

Flicking through the pages of Belfast newspapers on Saturday morning, there was little laughter and few explanations as to how, for example, Nigel Dodds managed to effect a full 7pc bounce in the Unionist vote.

Undoubtedly Sinn Féin’s refusal (or inability, it is never quite clear which) to broker an accommodation to enable a very small number of Orangemen to walk home past the Ardoyne shops every 12th of July has acted as fuel to a Unionist electoral bonfire.

Of course the problem is deeper and wider than that. All is my no means not lost for, but recovery depends on a new willingness to engage and win public arguments rather than relying on winning a series of private deals…

Do try and read the whole thing

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  • Carl Mark

    Alliance vote up overall was a good sign David.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Tim Pat’s books remind me of the Robert Lindsay Mason election leaflets I used to get through my door, but in reverse. As Lindsay Mason “told it like it was” about what was then Larne borough Council whole paragraphs had been blocked over with thick black lines to avoid libel actions.

    Tim Pat has “invisibly” blacked out all of those parts of the history that do not fit with his hard sell of his own version of things.

  • kensei

    You aren’t understanding what I said.

    1. A UI is almost impossible on a pure demographics approach
    2. Therefore it requires some people currently not in favour to vote for it
    3. The only potential candidates come from a group alienated with Unionism as is
    4. The more alienated they are, the more open to alienates they’ll be

    That doesn’t mean it will come. There is no inevitability. I don’t doubt the difficulty of the task. It might take 2 generations for it even to be possible, given the legacy of the troubles. No single party will deliver it, and I reckon it would need a serious and consistent intervention by one or more of the Southern parties. But if you are picking a long term strategy, that’s the way you need to go, no matter how hard it seems

    However circumstances change, attitudes change and events happen. They’ve happened in Ireland, sometimes slow, sometimes suddenly. Things are happening in Scotland now that will change the relationships in the UK permanently, whether the Union survives or not.

    If you think it is completely impossible forever, then you are deluded. Which is exactly where I’d like my opponents to be. Particularly if I’m working on a long shot.

  • Robin Keogh

    Believe me I would much prefer to be on here discussing real issues such as the election results, welfare issues, economics in general and election analysis. However, from time to time I get legacy issues thrown into the conversation to divert from the topic and rather than yawn out of genuine boredom as I normally do, I have simply decided to return the serve.
    There has been, there is and there always will be different accounts of history, including our own war. Different understandings, experiences, versions etc. That’s why I am glad that Unionists and Republicans under the GFA and subsequent agreements decided to share power and get on with the job of politics, so we can focus on the future rather than be chained to the past.
    Tim Pat Coogan certainly does not form the centre off my understanding of relations In my country, in fact I don’t think I have ever noticed any of his books on the shelves of the UCD library. But u are correct when you suggest my understanding of the conflict is academic, it has to be because I didn’t physically live through it. I glean my understanding of event from a broad catalogue of opinions across the board.
    I understand the wider theories on the causes of conflict and conflict resolution so my opinions are based on that, media and government report, and various academic sources.

    I have never been the sort of person who reads one side of anything and takes it as Gospel – much to the chagrin of many of my past teachers and professors – nor do I easily fit the convenient stereotype that all those who don’t agree with Unionism are merely stooges or sheep or whatever the current popular phrase is at the moment. Those comments simply tell me that there is, amongst some Unionists remnants of a superiority complex left over from the long dead past Glory Days. However I know a hell of a lot more about my country than I do about Serbia – with respect to you.
    I am neither a southerner or a northerner, I am an Irishman and I probably know less about the mindset of a Corkonian than I do about a Derry lad. Unionism agreed to enter government with Sinn Fein despite all the tragedies of the past, they also agreed that nationalism has every right to follow its goal of uniting Ireland by peaceful and democratic means.
    That’s what I would like to debate and discuss amongst other things, however if people feel the need to throw a victim in my face every time a conversation heats up, that’s cool too, I will push back. I prefer not to be in that situation, for me at least, victims – all victims – deserve better than to be tossed around a website by anonymous deniers.
    Like it or not Sinn Fein have the support of the vast majority of Northern Nationalists and a huge section of the electorate in the 26 counties, simply put they are more popular in Ireland than any other single party. I am proud to be counted among their numbers. My name is here and my picture is clear as day. I don’t need to hide behind anything or anyone. I am honest about my views and respect the views of others. Now, I am off to book my holiday to Serbia.

  • Robin Keogh

    The combined SF figures in lasts years Euro elections

  • submariner

    Patsy you seem to be under the misapprehension that Unionist working class voters give any thought to social policy before casting their vote they dont. They vote to keep the taigs and Lundys out. Sectarianism is endemic in the PUL community it really is that simple.

  • Zeno

    “when you claim all non voters (except the Catholic ones you call stupid in West Belfast) are pro unionist.”

    Are you unable to read plain English? I have never said any of that.
    So we are now at a point where you keep making silly childish accusations and I keep asking for you to show where I said this for example?

    “when you claim all non voters (except the Catholic ones you call stupid in West Belfast) are pro unionist.”

    But you can’t post all these things I’m supposed to have said.
    Do you just imagine stuff?

  • Gingray

    Thats typical of Zeno – there is no analysis, just a mantra. Strangely he has yet to post how many votes unionism has lost in that time …

  • Robin Keogh

    Calm down please there is no need to shout

  • Gingray

    Classic Zeno – all trolling and zero analysis. This is yet
    another blog you have failed to add anything other than snide remarks with a patronising view on catholics conforming to your world view if they do not vote.

    Indeed, search slugger with the words zeno and troll and
    there are plenty of blogs where you appear filling them with lies,misinformation and sectarianism. Shame.

    Just to show you up yet again for the liar that you are, I
    did that search (what a waste of my time!) and this is one of the many blogs you posted on, with some classiz zeno quotes:

    “I have included everyone who votes nationalist, says they
    are nationalist in the polls and surveys, says they are Irish in the census, as potential Yes Voters in a UI.”

    “People realised it was all nonsense and stopped voting.
    People are a lot smarter now that 30 or 40 years ago.”

    “Join Robin, he’s afraid of me”

    “Half of my extended family are Catholic and I can’t think
    of one who wants a United Ireland.”

    “Kids who do not live in West Belfast think that all that Unionist Nationalist stuff is nonsense.

    “They vote for the Green Party when they can be bothered.”

    So basically you are proud to be scaring people, only kids
    not living in west belfast (too catholic) think that its all useless, you have claimed people think its all nonsense and stopped voting and you have decided that non voters will not vote for a united Ireland because they dont vote nationalist,


  • barnshee

    “Screwed nationalists over”

    As I understand it there was universal sufferage

    “nationalists ” had

    1 Access to state funded education system of their choice

    2 Full access to state benefits system where they were( due to family size) they main benefactors

    3 Full access to the (free) health system

    4 According to CAIN the “points system” pushed Catholic families in front of the protestant in housing allocation.


    ” Catholics comprised 26.1% of households, but occupied 30.7% of local authority households (see Table 5.1). To put the figures another way, 4 out of every 10 Catholic families were in local authority houses compared with just over 3 out of every 10 Protestants.”

    5 33% of places in the RUC were reserved for Roman Catholics (you had to be brain dead not to get in tho I do remember some who might qualify as BD)

    Really screwed over then

    WB remains a problem certainly not– nearly 50 years after the “unionists” “screwed them over a problem of “unionist” making or one for “unionists ” to solve

  • barnshee


    “I do not know a single prod family who has not been affected in some way by the PIRA campaign. The idea that ” a fair few current Unionists” or their descendants will get over the line shows how much delusion their is in the CNR camp.”

    Thats what —another 3 generations of prods added to the previous generations alienated from the idea of a UI and raised on Abercorn Enniskillen and Tebane- a group where 1690 is still a significant date?

    “However circumstances change, attitudes change and events happen”

    Aye sure

  • barnshee

    A significant number of Prods “blame” they ROI for a part in the carnage North of the border (Haughey -Gun Running Colliusion Safe sanctuary for PIRA etc)

    They would be at best ambivalent about any similar carnage South of the Border

  • Alan N/Ards

    Robin, as someone who lived through the dark days of the troubles ( I was ten in 69) I know all sides suffered. Have no doubt about that. Unlike you, I do not/will not applaud, glorify or put on a pedestal, any of the people or the organisations who took the life of anyone during the troubles.

    While the Unionist leadership of Northern Ireland was pretty abysmal before 69, the bloodletting that followed was barbaric and anyone who believes that their side benefited from it should hang their head in shame.

  • barnshee


  • Zeno


  • Zeno

    Thanks, what size is the electorate in the ROI?

  • Zeno

    Nah, you must be wrong. In today’s Irish News Jim Gibney said………
    “Sinn Fein secured spectacular results. This was particularly true in areas like Newry/Armagh, Mid Ulster West Belfast and West Tyrone with other areas across the North polling well.”

  • Gingray

    Wow barnshee, just wow. I think we will just need to disagree on this one, not sure I have come across anyone who thought Northern Ireland was an equal society from partition to the start of the troubles, let alone someone who thought Catholics got preferrential treatment. Wow.

  • Robin Keogh

    i think u can look that up mate

  • Robin Keogh

    U have kids? Dont take this the wrong way zeno but i thought you were in your early twenties 22/23 or so

  • Robin Keogh

    and the Unionist vote has dropped by 70,000 😉
    u need to work on ur maths Zeno, u forgot to subtract those that leave the electorate

  • Zeno

    The electorate has increased………….. it has not gotten smaller.
    (assuming we are using the dictionary definition of electorate)

  • kensei

    I don’t even know that many Protestants and I know people who at least said they were unaffected.

    1690 is less significant for all the people that voted Alliance in East Belfast or didn’t vote. Please, keep making it significant!

  • Zeno

    My Kids are almost all in their 20’s. I’m a businessman. My business is Data Analysis and Financial Risk Assessment. I make predictions for a living. Hence my interest in figures and data.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think you’re right about this, ‘re-unificationism’ only needs a small number of these people to succeed, assuming it can offset Catholics who may be pragmatically pro-union.

    It stands to reason though that if re-unificationism can bring Protestants in from the pro-UK side then it would correspondingly eat into the ‘unicorn’ vote too.

    As well all know though, SF are making this an unlikelihood at the moment and ditto the big unionist parties with regards to appealing to non-nationalist Catholics.

    Ho hum…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Robin, I simply ‘threw a victim in your face’ when you propagated the text book ‘what every republican teenager should know about the great lads of the IRA’ narrative, for someone of an academic background I fail to see how you arrive at such simplistic conclusions.

    The yield of the Provo’s campaign was quite barren in terms of achievements. NICRA did most of the heavy lifting, it’s only Shinners who say otherwise.

    If you’re going to swallow the party line so unquestioningly then expect to be called out on it and have victims paraded in front of you for the ‘party line’ does its best to portray these victims as necessary evils or indeed ‘viable targets’, such a deceitful narrative deserves to be challenged.

    You say you don’t take things as gospel yet arrive at a conclusion strikingly similar to those who DO take things for gospel.

    The IRA did more damage to the prospects of re-unification than anything else in recent history.

    How people can’t see this amazes (and worries) me.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I wasn’t shouting, I was emphasising. If I was shouting I’d use exclamation marks. (Just for future reference).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thankyou Seaan
    It’s reassuring to hear that coming from someone like yourself who scrutinises all sources and endeavours to amputate bias and myth.

  • Robin Keogh

    Yes the registered electorate has increased while the active electorate has decreased

  • Robin Keogh

    Holy God thats gas !!

  • barnshee

    Dispute the facts?

  • barnshee

    Set up a “whataboutery” scale balance
    In the left pan pile in the CRN whataboutery
    In the other pan pile in the PUL whataboutery
    Watch which side drops

  • Catcher in the Rye

    barnshee, I think you’ve introduced meta-whataboutery. You’re using whataboutery against my accusation of whataboutery.

  • Robin Keogh

    I was actually replying to John The Optiists rant in my post, which as I have already pointed out is just another side of the story. My views are my views not simplictic at all but the result of a lot of persoanl anlysis and soul searching, long before i ever came to support the Shinners.Again your swallo the party line comment smacks of the old ‘Catholic boy cant think for himself’ bullshit that Unionism spouted for decades. If you want to convince yourself that Shinners are just a collection of stooges or blind ignorant fools, thats fine, carry on if it rocks your world and justifies your own shortcomings. What worries me is the cosntant harping about the past by many unioinsts who just cant face the future without having agro somewhere. Again, the GFA and susewuent agreements gave nationalists the right to power share and work for irish unity, if u are not happy with Shinners in governemnt or commemorating their dead or working to bring irsh identity on to an equal footing, take it up with those who signed on the dotted line of all the agreements since GFA and beyond; Unionist, Loyalist, Nationalists, Republicans and both governments.

  • Catcher in the Rye


    I object to people singing the famine song outside of a church and then trying to pretend that they didn’t. Nobody intimidated me. In fact they’d have to intimidate me to get me to stop complaining about it.

    Look, I don’t want to stop parades. I don’t even want to stop the parade on Clifton Street. All I want is for the people parading to be nice. That means they’re sober, properly dressed, properly disciplined, and exercise due care when they are near a church. I think most people in parade fit this description. A tiny number of them do not. Instead of defending them you need to cast them out.

    If you can’t accept this very simple and very reasonable request, which is a far better deal than you would get in any other part of the UK; and if you can’t accept that I’m being honest when I tell you that disrespecting a church is provocative, offensive and insensitive; then why should I respect you ? Why should I make any effort to recognise and help defend this cultural expression or its right to free assembly ?

  • james

    Fair play. I am in agreement with everything you’ve written. Mutual respect is the only hope for a better future, and certainly those looking to antagonize people from other traditions are unwelcome as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to see a situation where nationalists are both comfortable and welcome to attend our celebrations and would be quite happy to attend yours on that basis. I’d imagine that any decent person would agree with what you wrote. For myself, I have respect for all religions and, incidentally, I don’t drink. I’ve no issue with those who do but would politely suggest that (if they cannot handle it) it should not really be part of what is after all a church parade.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Surely the sheer number of people who throw out such a similar rebuttal to you should ring alarm bells, Alan N’Ards and myself are hardly ‘typical’ unionists and indeed I was under the impression that John the Optimist was a nationalist of sorts (same with Gingray too, who is in partial
    agreement with me on this topic).

    If so many northerners of such diverse backgrounds can agree on this one matter then it should be food for thought that the SF narrative of the necessary ‘war’ may not be on such a firm foundation as which you confidently
    espoused earlier.

    If you feel I have any shortcomings (which I’m sure I do) with regards to bias or agenda then by all means highlight them for as far as I can see I am equally critical of all those who feed THE MACHINE in NI whether they be people from my own background (an Orange-rooted background), the wagon-circling unionists, loyalist coat trailers or the ‘flexibility-in-equality’ Shinners.

    One thing that defenders of both extremes have in common is that they all accuse me of being blinkered, foamy-mouthed or some such other defect when it comes to
    attacking their sacred cows.

    I don’t do it for fun, I do it because I think SF, elements of the OO and political unionism all spin the sectarian merry-go-round.

    SF talk the talk but drunkenly stagger the walk and they’ve been staggering even more so recently.

    If they want a UI they need to convert a few fence sitters.

    They are not doing so.

    If they are so equality driven and genuine in their beliefs then why are failing at this?
    Why is it that even Protestant republicans find them repulsive (I know at least one who feels this way)?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, AG, I’m constantly shocked by the selectivity of even perfectly respectable historians in presenting their “facts”, let alone analysis of these facts. I’ve had a few of these historians mentioned as sources for “fact” to contradict what I’ve presented as my own experiences of NICRA and the PD at times on Slugger, by those ho feel that if its in print and the writer has an academic “handle” then it is written in the book of life. Just one example of how entirely good historians will fall into the trap of distorting history from authoritative sources!

    This is a textual source ( a letter from Special Branch to the Minister of Home Affairs at Stormont in 1969) that may be employed for possible information on the PD for historians:

    As one of the “dozen or so” rank and file at that time, the first line shows the standard of insight whoever prepared the report had. Cyril Toman was the chair of the Labour party young Socialists at the time, hardly a bloodcurdling revolutionary organisation in anyones book if they were balanced and sane observers, although perhaps Michael Foot and Tony Benn were closet Stalinists. Even within Marxism itself at the time there were more trends than a simple “Orthodox” version and a Trotskyist version. I’d say Marcuse and the sixties counterculture was considerably more evident than Marx, myself, but the special branch informant had a very simplistic version of radicalism in his head and reported accordingly, seeing Trotskyists where there were actually none. Time and again I get this kind of simplification of what the PD was about mentioned whenever they come up. Because “Text Proves IT”, and historians follow textual proofs. But this is the repetition of simple ignorance by historians, sometimes given in perfectly good faith. Tim Pat is either blinded to any case but his own, and simply cannot see other facts, or he is intentionally editing out anything that contradicts his line of thinking. Either way he is poor source for information for anyone wanting to understand recent history enough to do any good.

    My grandfather was a soldier who suggested to me that you needed to know everything you could discover to make informed choices, and that that meant being asa highly critical of what you support just as much as of what you oppose. It’s how I think about history, and feel that it is only by looking at every side of the arguments here that we will ever get away from being simply “the blind belabouring one another in a muddy hole”. I think that your holding those supporting the Union case and the UI case to full account over their follies (most eloquently) while holding to moderate Union thinking (not unchallenged by those who would require uniformity of support) is perhaps one of the most valuable contributions anyone posting is making to Slugger.

    Now if I’d written anything like this in response to Turgon He’d be loudly accusing me of man playing, as I’m defining what you are thinking. Please feel free to fully correct me if I’ve got any of it wrong, no one knows everything!

  • Robin Keogh

    I wasnt suggesting that you or anybody else were card carrying Unionists, I was trying to point out the ridiculous assertion by so many people that people of my view are sheep of sinn fein and incapable of unilaterally making our minds up about the legacy of the past. On any topic I am suspicious of individuals who simply reduce those with an oppoite view as somehow inferior intelectually, be it Irish history or more contemporary issues. Of course there are those who toe a line or follow a narrative without necessarrily finding the time or inclination to adequetely research the topic, however I am not one of them and unless I know a person particularly well I never assume they have not done their homework.

    I have no doubt that many people of all political shades disagree with SF’s version of events. But what is very clear is that it doesnt form an important part of the criteria they imploy when deciding on who to vote for. This tells me at the very least, that many either accept, emapathise with, understand or agree. Whatever the reality, Unionists, Loyalists, Nationalists and Republicans will continue to commemorate their descendants and recall their past on the basis of their own interpretation of history. Ideally, it would be fine if they all sat down together and agreed to do it in such a way as to avoid as much anatgonism and unpleasantness as possible. I believe that there is a genuine cohort in all political groups who would relish the idea of creating an environment were mutual respect for differences could flourishinto a culture of equality and respect. The problem of course is that everybody makes mistakes not least when they look over their respective shoulders and see extremes chasing up behind them. I believe firmly its a collective problem that can only be resolved collectively, I am not naive enough to assume that the Shinners could not do better, but I am also not going to admit that they have not made serious efforts when its blatantly not true.

    until everybody is willing to genuinely draw a line under the past, it will be next to impossible to create a truly shared and equal future.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “I have no doubt that many people of all political shades disagree with SF’s version of events. But what is very clear is that it doesnt form an important part of the criteria they imploy when deciding on who to vote for.”
    Very good Robin.
    That’s something I’d like yer average unionist to take note of, there is a school of thought within unionism that every vote for SF is an automatic ‘thumbs-up’ to the IRA’s past.
    I don’t believe it to be the case and rather I see it as a sign that if people are willing to ‘look past’ SF & the IRA’s history then they’d be willing to do the same for some unionist groups ‘should’ a unionist party every offer-up the goods.
    Though I won’t hold my breath….

  • Robin Keogh

    I agree 😉

  • barnshee

    Just do the balance above

  • barnshee

    Too much common sense there— never catch on

  • Cue Bono

    Yeah and 800 years ago there were beardy mass murderers, living in crannogs, assuring their followers that the aud sod will soon be free. Any day now in fact.

  • Cue Bono

    I pity people who cling to such statistics when the actual elections show that their little sectarian calculations do not translate into reality.

  • Cue Bono

    The really amusing thing about you is the way you label entire communities as sectarian whilst imagining that you are not.

  • Cue Bono

    Ever here of Billy McMillen? If not perhaps you should give him a bit of a google before you launch into your next batch of propaganda about the CRA.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Met him, CB, but I suspect you may not have. And accordingly I am more aware of just who much and how little influence he had on what was a very grass roots organisation, something that it is difficult, I know, for those accustomed to letting others do their thinking for them to actually grasp. But I was there, saw what went on and know that many of the descriptions I read now are just plain silly, both those that vilify and those that sanctify. NICRA was simply the old NI state’s last hope of entering the real world without all the unnecessary folly of violence……..

  • barnshee

    Depending on the one eyed trouser snake is hardly a political/economic strategy – particularly as the results of excessive usage are becoming unfashionable and no longer “enforceable” by religious dogma.

  • submariner

    But not as amusing as being accused of being sectarian by someone who was previously banned from this site for making sectarian posts.

  • Cue Bono

    Unfortunately for you some of the other people who were there have been quite prolific in writing about what was going on and they have proven Special Branch to have been absolutely correct in their assessments. Perhaps you were too naive to comprehend what you were taking part in, or perhaps your mind has blanked it out in an attempt to salve your conscience for what you helped to cause.

  • disqus_JmCoqa6yB8

    Mick that piece is balanced, insightful and a good critique of Sinn Fein’s declining electoral position. The one chink of light in what was otherwise a sectarian squabble was the fantastic vote for Gerry Carroll. It is about time the arrogance of SF was countered.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That the leaders were “Trotskyists”? This bizarre whopper of a misdirection simply shows just how simplistic and ill informed their informants were! And clearly points to just how crude the information was from which decisions were being made.

    There were Trotskyists about then in Belfast, the old SLL, their heads filled with jargon and sclerotic ideology, just like the old UUP and especially their lunatic fringes, but no Trotskyists in the leadership of the PD……..

    I’m still trying to think about who you are referring to, as having “proved Special Branch absolutely correct……” no, can’t think who.