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…