Gerry Kelly: “The letter with the figures said it all because it dealt with anti-sectarianism and that’s the way I am…”

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly is still squirming on the sectarian hook the party hoisted him on during his failed campaign in North Belfast during the UK parliamentary election. [Petard? – Ed]  Pardon you…

After his party colleague, Carál Ní Chuilín, MLA, [Good heavens, you’re the Culture Minister?! – Ed], tried, and failed, to blame the Electoral Commission for Sinn Féin’s use of the 2011 census’ breakdown of the constituency by religion, or religion brought up in, to support the party’s claim that Gerry Kelly could win, Gerry Kelly is now trying to blame the post office… [You mean Royal Mail? – Ed]  Perhaps…

In what is described as an in-depth interview for the Belfast Media Group, the North Belfast MLA is quoted arguing that

“I don’t think it’s well understood what happened,” [Gerry Kelly] said. “If you look at our material up to that point the language used was nationalist and unionist, and we did use the graphs and were trying to show a demographic change because there is a demographic change that reflects Belfast.”

He said Royal Mail staff told their activists only the census figures could be used. [??? – Ed]

When that was brought to the post office for the freepost, they said that those figures were census figures, and census figures are couched in terms of Catholic and Protestant and other, and therefore we had to use that.

I think, in retrospect, the decision then probably should have been to withdraw the graph rather than put it in, because it did give an argument to our opponents, whether that was the SDLP or the unionists. In honesty, I don’t think I would have made that decision (to publish) because I do not like the term Catholic and Protestant in that sense.” [added emphasis throughout]

The graph Sinn Féin used wouldn’t appear to directly infringe on the Royal Mail’s stated terms and conditions for election communications [pdf file], even with misleading labels… and, as the BMG report notes, “A Royal Mail spokeswoman said they would investigate the claims.”

However, let’s assume that someone did point out to the party that the census does not ask whether someone is a nationalist or a unionist, nor about any political affiliation, but that the census does ask about religion and, if you are going to use those figures, it would be, at best, disingenuous not to correctly label the figures as a sectarian religious headcount.

Gerry Kelly’s position appears to be that he is perfectly happy with Sinn Féin’s using the figures from the 2011 census showing the breakdown of the constituency by religion if they were mis-labelled by the party as Nationalist v Unionist, but that the graph should have been withdrawn when it was accurately labelled as showing the figures for Catholic v Protestant in the constituency. [Some people might not have realised what figures the party was using otherwise! – Ed]  Indeed.

Of course, as I mentioned previously, Sinn Féin could have pointed to other, perhaps more relevant, figures from the 2011 census.  As the ever indispensable Ark notes for North Belfast

In the multi-option national identity question, 48.66% said that they had British identity (10th of 18 constituencies), 29.88% said that they had Irish identity (9th), 27.28% Northern Irish (15th), 1.26% English, Scots or Welsh (14th), and 3.09% something other (7th). [added emphasis]

[That wouldn’t support the party’s claim! – Ed]  Indeed, but neither did the Catholic v Protestant figures…  As the result of the 2015 election in North Belfast demonstrated.

  • Designated Unionist parties (DUP(47%))– 47%
  • Designated Nationalist parties (Sinn Féin(33.9%) + SDLP(8.2%)) – 42.1%
  • Other (Alliance(7.2%) + Independent(1.3%) + Workers Party(2.3%)) – 10.8%

[10.8%?!  If only those others hadn’t stood! – Ed]  You mean those Catholic and Protestant and others…

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  • Roy Fisher

    A strong article, pointing out the badly labelled graph, the mis-labelling to unionist & nationalist & the deflections to other bodies. However the figures Kelly used in the graph weren’t those of religion, but religious background. The numbers he claimed as nationalist and unionist were also the census findings for religious backgrounds. This means he assumed thousands of atheists would vote according to tribe, he also assumes non/voters and children, who had been born into a religion, to have the intention to vote by tribe. This has been widely reported as a religious headcount; I don’t have a religion but I get counted to have a Christian background.

  • Roy,

    I’ve added “or religion brought up in” to the first reference of “the 2011 census’ breakdown of the constituency by religion” to help clarify that point.

  • Roy Fisher

    Thanks Pete. The piece highlights much of what’s been missed by the media.

  • guest3

    Sic em pete sic em

  • Glenn Clare
  • Dan

    He’s a sectarian dinosaur who should do us all a favour and disappear off stage

  • Nevin

    On May 5 he was being hoisted ‘‘Higher and Higher’ [YouTube]:

    For the first time the figures show a Nationalist majority in North Belfast

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont see why he couldnt just apolgize for the leaflets and be done with it. It was clearly bad judgement. As for the national identity stats, the figures u quote show that a majority identify with some form of irish identity other than British so they would have been negligable in terms of considering a strategy. Moreover the actual result is almost bang on the census figure for north belfast prod and cat electorate (those over 18) so the entire project was a waste of time against a sectarian ? Pact.

  • Nevin

    Robin, ‘Unionist pact’ is more apt; it was designed to maximise Unionist representation from Northern Ireland; Sinn Féin and Alliance each lost a seat.

  • Robin

    “As for the national identity stats, the figures u quote show that a majority identify with some form of irish identity other than British…”

    We’ve been through this before.

    It’s a multi-option question. You can chose more than one national identity. But if you think that identifying with Northern Ireland makes you more likely to vote Sinn Féin then you go with that… [Partitionist! – Ed]

    “I dont see why he couldnt just apolgize for the leaflets and be done with it. It was clearly bad judgement.”

    Bad judgement? Yes. But also the strategy.

  • Robin Keogh

    I agree nevin, i never beieved the pact was sectarian thats why i put the q mark. Nor do i believe the leaflets were sectarian just a stupid decision.

  • Nevin

    “Gerry Kelly is now trying to blame the post office…”


    When that was brought to the post office for the freepost, [the staff] said ..

  • Robin Keogh

    I didnt say that i am just making the point (badly it seems) that a significant number of people rejected the tags British and Irish.

  • Nevin

    SF, as you can see in that YouTube video, continued to play that hand up to at least May 5.

  • “the figures u quote show that a majority identify with some form of irish identity other than British”

    Really, Robin?

  • Colin Lamont

    Interesting that even the combined nationalist vote was still 2000 short of Dodds’ total. And that’s assuming 100% of SDLP voters plumping for Kelly, which seems unlikely considering that their remaining 3k or so voters are probably the hardcore on the Upper Antrim Road.

  • Jag

    Perhaps we need a new term in Northern Ireland for those grossly offended by what are after all home truths. What about Les Offensees? French is appropriate because there’s something affected and poodlish about those who clutch their handbags Les Dawson-like when confronted by self evident truths.

    If you’re a Catholic in Northern Ireland, particularly in a constituency which is ground zero for Camp Twadell which I think we all agree brings out the worst polarising behaviour and attitudes in both communities, Catholic ≈ Nationalist (or at least not unionist).

    It was dumb beyond belief for SF to publish that, but those ever knowledgeable dogs in the street know it’s correct to approximate Catholicism to nationalism. What SF was trying to do was to motivate its voters to get to the polling station; SF was saying “Look, we can do this, there are more voters in North Belfast from our tribe than their tribe”.

    It spectacularly backfired, it rang alarm bells amongst themmuns and ironically motivated themmuns to come out and vote and repelled ussuns, neutralised the attacks on unionist pact sectarian headcount, distracted from the DUP’s difficulties on social issues and gifted Nigel a most impressive showing that he could only dream about three months ago.

    Someone needs to show Gerry Kelly that pictogram that Fr Ted used on Fr Dougal McGuire – “these are the thoughts you keep in your head, these are the thoughts that you express”

  • Granni Trixie

    Context is everything in a place such as NI hence i think it is sectarian to try to appeal to voters on basis of voting for ‘your’ tribe or building on fear of ‘other’.
    Such tactics also suggests a poverty of ideas to offer electorate.

    Hardly living up to reconciliation responsibilities is it?

  • Pasty2012

    It would have made better sense to point out to the Unionists that they have in fact voted in people who are fully intent on helping the Conservatives slash their benefits as there a few on both sides in North Belfast not receiving some sort of benefit whether it be out of work or in work benefits.
    You would have thought that the at the very least the PUP should have been saying to the Unionist Community that the Union is NOT being voted on and that they should be voting for the PUP as the only Party on the Unionist side to oppose Tory Cuts. Strange when the PUL come out crying that they have been left behind by the Agreement and that whilst Sinn Fein are in Government they have been discarded by the process. They can’t seem to see that they need to be consistent and stand before the electorate to get the support they need be in Government. Allowing the DUP and UUP, both conservative to differing degrees, the freedom at an election merely damages their own chances and message when it comes to the Assembly Election. Many voters do not change if they have bought into why they voted for a party in one election and will not switch between Party’s at Assemble Election time, thus the PUP etc. can’t increase or build on a vote base.

  • chrisjones2

    “we did use the graphs”

    Yes Gerry. You used a bar chart that was grossly exaggerated to try and present a huge Catholic majority when the reality was just over 1%

  • chrisjones2

    “people who are fully intent on helping the Conservatives slash their benefits”

    So its only voters on benefits you want to attract. Whats the difference between that and a bribe? What about all the voters who work to pay for the benefits? Those who are losing their jobs because of SF mismanagement of the budget?

    ” the only Party on the Unionist side to oppose Tory Cuts”

    Really? Evidence for that?

    I note you keep your activity private so noone can see what you say in the round but are you perchance on benefits?

  • chrisjones2

    “he couldnt just apolgize for the leaflets”

    The problem is that SFs spectrum of acceptance of responsibility starts at 2500 murders = justified

    This doesn’t register on the scale of conduct

  • chrisjones2

    Apparently they dont Gerry

  • chrisjones2

    I agree. I do too. What I am is my business, noone elses and its far more complex than the simple Prod / Taig dynamic beloved of both major parties

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The PUP have never challenged the big house unionists and never will, as evidence by their withdrawal from the Westminster elections just past.

    Making people in this country care about bread and butter issues, such as spending on welfare, has been an elusive dream for many of us for so many decades now …

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Gerry Kelly’s only sin here is to break the unwritten rule that says that you must refer to Catholics as “nationalists” and Protestants as “unionists”.

    Yes, we know that not all nationalists are Catholic, and not all unionists are Protestants. These are all inaccurate words to describe membership of the two big tribes. Ultimately the conflict is little to do with constitutional issues or religion, and simply more to do with where you were born or grew up.

    I do not mean to invoke whataboutery but the plain fact is that both of the tribes do this. The decision of unionism to form a pact was symptomatic of the same underlying cause behind SF choosing to resort to an undisguised sectarian headcount. The message is identical – there are more of us than there are of them, so let’s get together and put them out.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Actually this isn’t even the first time that SF have had a leaflet rejected on electoral grounds (whether this is what really happened or not). I remember this happened back in the 1990s, for some technical detail – SF accidentally omitted one of the requirements that qualified them for the free leaflet drop.

    They gathered up 100 activists and delivered the leaflet themselves in the space of one day.

    It’s interesting that SF are in effect saying they can no longer do this …

  • Pasty2012

    Chris, I work full time and also run a part time business. However I may or may not require benefits in future and at present know quite a few people who work in Castle Court for the Social Security Agency delivering benefits, who due to the low wages, also claim Benefits. They are all voters working who also pay their tax and National Insurance towards the benefits they are claiming.
    The Institute of Fiscal studies in London has determined that the Tory’s will save £1.5Billion from the next round of the Welfare Cuts and that the next £10.5Billion of their overall £12Billion savings will have to come from the Benefits that are paid to people Working. That means child benefit cuts, Tax Credit cuts, Housing Benefit cuts and additional taxes on some benefits paid to those working people.
    You seem to be suggesting from your response that people on benefits do not work, well it is those hard working people who due to being on low wages will be hit hard in this next round of cuts along with those in the middle class bracket.
    I don’t care about your activity and looking into it I simply respect a persons right to reply with their opinion on each matter as it arises. whether you are working and on benefit or just working and have earnings above the need to claim benefit top up is none of my business.

  • T.E.Lawrence
  • james

    And of course he made the breathtakingly arrogant assumption that all Catholics would simply do as they were told and support the Party.

  • Cue Bono

    Gerry Kelly’s sin here is hypocrisy. The Sinners claim to be non sectarian, but published blatantly sectarian leaflets in their voting campaign. The sin is further compounded by the fact that they constantly accuse unionist parties of being sectarian. Hoist by their own petard.

  • Roy Fisher

    Is you’re talking sins, isn’t there a commandment about bearing false witness?

  • Cue Bono

    Aye and they are guilty of that as well. Indeed I think they tick most of the boxes when it comes to commandments.

  • Given the day that it’s in..

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Attempts to liken SF’s sectarian call to be the same as a unionist pact are pathetic. A unionist pact is to put a unionist into the seat (of whatever religion). What SF are doing is to try and put a catholic into the seat. They are appealing to people sectarianism only. It was a new low, not a surprise though. Everyone knows that SF are about sectarian tribalism only. Ask anyone in an SF area and they all think voting SF is what you are ‘supposed to do’ if you are a catholic.

  • Spike

    Have to disagree Robin, Unionism in England and Unionism in Northern Ireland are two very separate ideologies. It is impossible to separate Northern Ireland Unionism from religion succinctly summarised by Lord Craigavon: ”we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State.” Sinn Fein are currently alienating their staunch conservative catholic support through the abortion issue and negative commentary on the catholic church as past number of years. In my eyes both the pact and the leaflet campaign were sectarian in nature and the electorate should have called the parties out on this.