McGuinness’ Foyle Gamble

The McGuinness to Foyle gamble has added much needed spice to the electoral contest within nationalism. As I have noted at length on Slugger before, the nationalist parties in the North have failed to inspire their voters to turn out in recent electoral contests, with the result being a declining overall share of the vote for both nationalist parties, and Irish nationalism as a whole.

Part of the reason for that has been the absence of any credible notion that there was anything resembling a contest for the position of lead nationalist party. Sinn Fein’s dominance was established in 2001 and, whilst they may have peaked and began to partially decline in the most recent electoral outings, the fortunes of the SDLP have been almost consistently disappointing since Stalingrad fell to a triumphant Sinn Fein machine.

Nationalist politics has gotten stale. The SDLP have appeared dead on their feet for well on a decade now, whilst Sinn Fein have appeared sluggish and short on ideas at Stormont.

The end result was evident in the reversal of fortunes that saw the combined SF-SDLP Assembly seat tally fall in 2011 for the first time since the creation of the new power-sharing Executive and Assembly in 1998, and in the loss of Fermanagh South Tyrone and retention of South Belfast with a minimal vote share in last year’s Westminster election.

The McGuinness move makes sense on a number of levels for Sinn Fein, whilst also explaining why the party was so determined to deliver progress regarding upgrading the roads joining Derry with Dublin and Belfast (the A5 and A6 ) ahead of the Assembly contest.

Regardless of whether or not McGuinness carries three seats across the line, expect a Derry Deal to form a major part of Sinn Fein’s demands ahead of a Programme for Government post-election. This is likely to impact upon issues ranging from Invest NI strategies for tackling unemployment in the city to Magee University places.

Sinn Fein know that there is no question but that they will comfortably be returned as the largest nationalist party in the north. They are also banking on a realistic expectation that northern nationalists will take to the polls in May only a few short months after Sinn Fein have delivered the party’s greatest ever electoral performance at a Dail election since partition, with the Easter Rising commemorations in the interim serving once again to underline for nationalists that it is Sinn Fein who can most credibly lay claim to the mantle of the party most interested in pursuing an all-Ireland agenda.

But party leaders must also be aware that, in contrast to the southern wing of the party, northern Sinn Fein does not appear to be wholly fit for purpose in terms of its Assembly operation. In fact, the party appears to have lost its way in terms of the process of transitioning away from a movement and towards an effective political party capable of setting and delivering an agenda shaped by a republican vision, with all that entails in terms of ensuring the representative and advisory tier of the party is populated with those holding the skills and experience in these fields, as opposed to the community activist-oriented representatives who invariably cut their teeth in active republicanism during the conflict era- a phase which ended a generation ago.

In this sense, Sinn Fein leaders will have noted that the SDLP under Colum Eastwood have stolen a march on Sinn Fein in fairly rapidly beginning an effective process of phasing out the old guard and replacing them with a new tier of representatives. In Nichola Mallon, Justin McNulty, Daniel McCrossan and Claire Hanna, the SDLP have ushered in a new age for the party which, ironically, turns the tables on a Sinn Fein that has made much of the relatively more youthful appearance of its party and its representatives since the turn of the century saw Adams and McGuinness steal the mantle from the then ageing Hume/Mallon axis.

Consequently, delivering a crushing blow to a youthful SDLP leader still trying to establish a credible revival narrative is a very enticing prize. If McGuinness’ shift delivers 3 seats for Sinn Fein and reduces the SDLP to just two, it will decisively demonstrate who bosses nationalism, even in the SDLP citadel of Derry, buying the party more time to effect the final phase of transition to a post- Adams/McGuinness movement into a fully functioning all-Ireland political party.

There are obvious risks, however, and in these risks can be located the very real opportunities now presenting for Colum Eastwood and the SDLP.

Heading into the 2016 Assembly election, Colum Eastwood must be conscious that his primary objective has to be to emerge with something that allows him and the party to portray the SDLP as being on the way back. After decades of being chased down and then left for dust by a rampant Sinn Fein, the SDLP need a win in order to begin the process of planting the seeds of an SDLP revival in the hope that  momentum can grow and develop in the time ahead.

Before this announcement, identifying the likely source of that ‘win’ was difficult. The SDLP, in spite of a number of fresh new faces, remain in an electoral rut. The four rather impressive representatives referenced above will mark as a success merely returning with seats that were already the possession of the party.

The party’s main hope for an Assembly gain is the Strangford seat that nationalists have continually failed to turn out in sufficient numbers since 1998 to deliver- something that says an awful lot about the political organisation of both nationalist parties in the constituency. Even if they did manage to finally claim the seat, the possible loss of the solitary Upper Bann SDLP seat to Sinn Fein would leave the party returning with the same number of seats.

Standing still is better than falling back, but it’s not likely to be bought nor enthusiastically sold as an advance. That was a problem for Eastwood.

This announcement means that Eastwood and the SDLP have been challenged to a bout in their own home town, knowing that victory will bring with it a genuine opportunity to launch the party as a new political/ electoral brand under a new leadership that has seen off the ageing nationalist leadership in the person of Martin McGuinness.

In one sense, this is an unnecessary gamble for Sinn Fein.

Without this Foyle tete-a-tete, Eastwood faced an uphill battle to emerge with any notional victory and certainly nothing that could have seriously dented the aura of invincibility that continues to surround Sinn Fein in terms of support within northern nationalism. This is a roll of the dice that can come back to haunt Sinn Fein pretty quickly in the post-election period.

Fortune does favour the brave though, and Sinn Fein’s senior strategist will only have to look to the successful Adams shuffle southwards to Louth, or Mitchel McLaughlin’s poll-topping performance after transferring from Foyle to South Antrim to see how successful such initiatives can be for the party.

However, the recent history of electoral performances in the Foyle constituency suggest that Sinn Fein, even with McGuinness on the ticket, face a stern test.

Sinn Fein has been huffing and puffing in a vain attempt to dethrone the SDLP in Foyle since Hume departed the scene, never managing to come close at a Westminster election, though they did manage to reduce arrears to less than 2% at the last Assembly election in 2011.

After that, the party must have thought they were in with a very good chance of challenging Mark Durkan for the Westminster seat in 2015, which must have formed a part of the reason that they opted for Gearoid O’hEara as a candidate.

Although he had been a party councillor stretching back almost three decades, he had also been identified with other city initiatives more recently, such as the Culturlann and being co-ordinator of the Fleadh Cheoil, which theoretically should have helped him expand the party’s appeal beyond its base in the city.

Alas, it was not to be, and Mark Durkan delivered, at first glance, one of the best performances by an SDLP candidate in the 2015 election to see off the Sinn Fein challenge. O’hEara’s share of the vote actually dropped some 0.4% on the party vote in 2010, whilst Durkan’s increased by 3.2%.

However, when the fact that almost 8% of voters in 2010 backed Eamonn McCann, these results once again illustrate the declining nationalist turnout as there was no PBP candidate in 2015, as well as revealing the full scale of the Sinn Fein retreat in 2015 on the high point reached in 2011.

If O’hEara found it difficult to penetrate the soft SDLP base in the city, then it is highly likely that Sinn Fein strategists will conclude that the two incumbent SF MLAs, Maeve McLaughlin and Raymond McCartney, are even less likely to make that breakthrough and, consequently, I would not be entirely surprised if McGuinness wasn’t the only new name on the Sinn Fein ticket this time around.

Having said that, the party might have been expected to co-opt in a new representative over the past year to make a start on developing a candidate profile were that a part of the plan.

The absence of the now retired former SDLP MLA, Pat Ramsey, from the SDLP ticket will have further encouraged Sinn Fein in believing that the breakthrough was on in 2016.

Of course, it is possible that a non-nationalist left wing candidate could build on Eamonn McCann’s 2010 and 2011 performances and join the People Before Profit candidate from West Belfast, Gerry Carroll, in securing election in Foyle, though I would calculate that the sense of anticipation surrounding the impending nationalist contest between the de facto Sinn Fein northern leader and the SDLP’s new leader is likely to ensure that an independent/ socialist candidate will have to wait at least one more term to secure a foothold in Foyle.

There is renewed interest in the nationalist contest, and time will tell if that proves sufficient to reverse the declining nationalist turnout.

It’s game on in Foyle.

  • SDLP supporter

    A reasonable and balanced analysis, Chris, though the first gain the SDLP must surely be targeting is regaining their sole seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone which they lost by 62 votes in 2011. I am afraid that the SDLP has little chance of taking the Strangford seat under present circumstances and virtually zero organisational capability. Incidentally, a charismatic anti-SF physical force nationalist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone could spring a surprise. I hesitate to use the honourable word ‘dissident’, especially when it has been applied previously to great people like Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonnar.

    I would add that in Foyle it will be very tight, with both SDLP and SF running three candidates each; no fourth names on the ticket in either case.

  • Robin Keogh

    I think the SDLP will might back that seat in FST, bad organisation in 2011 lost it then, lessons should be learnt.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    Martin mc untrustworthy mc liar. Never will you get my family vote.( Dirty player) SDLP Colin Eastwood and Eamonn mc Cann- two main men worth voting for- Untrustworthy what good have you ever done for NW? Remember innocent – Joanne Mathers, Seamus Brown, Pasty Gillespie, Frank Hegarty, Patrick flood, Patrick Duffy, Mary Travers, Caroline Moreland, John Dunne , David caldwell kingmills families, Claudy families, Enniskillen bloody Friday. We are dealing with state, when do we deal with your organisation? (All these people are innocent)

  • Robin Keogh

    Bloody Sunday?

  • Dixie Elliott

    Regarding Derry. Unlike other areas of the North people have no worries about voting to keep Unionists from getting the seat. There is resentment about SF surrendering Welfare back to the Tories to save their jobs and it could see people deciding to give the shinners a bloody nose in Foyle.

    However believe it or not ordinary people are angry at McGuinness pandering to the OO as a strong hatred of the OO still exists in the City. And this is where they could be punished.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    More than angry, in my opinion have you seen untrustworthy out in the city of Derry bogside for a stroll ? The coward surrounded by 7 / 8 security clowns has to go away out of the way beach. John Hume walked through the streets of Derry never needed a body gard protection. That’s the difference. Derry people respect John Pat Hume. We love these good civil rights people real people, not greed power control . Derry people love John Hume families .

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    We are dealing with bloody Sunday 56 state cases open your mind sado. Away ye go and get your facts right, I will be at the bloody Sunday march for justice will you? Take your oil sinners. Ps PSF try to stop Bloody Sunday march 3 years ago. Thanks to Kate linda Nash Helen Deery stood up to theses British state men women Stormont. ( women of great courage) were threatened

  • Ryan

    Is the SDLP even a nationalist party? Could they even be described as nationalist? I mean, their MP’s swear an Oath to the Queen, their previous leader wore a Poppy and even one of their founders basically said something like it was a “post nationalist” era. How often does the SDLP even mention a United Ireland, never mind pursue it? I cant even remember the last time I heard the SDLP seriously talk about Irish Unity, we just hear the odd token of support of Irish Unity which is spoken half heartedly.
    The SDLP has to be open and honest to the electorate, are they really a Nationalist party? Or are they neutral? Or are they maybe even small u unionist? We know they certainly have members who are openly Unionist. They have to be honest with people and stop beating about the bush.
    When you have the likes of the UDA, yes the UDA, even endorsing the SDLP and urging people to vote for them in certain areas, you know something is seriously wrong somewhere……

  • UC

    PBPA must be in with a good chance here,If PBPA fail to get elected their transfers and those of the unionist candidates should see the third SDLP seat retained.

  • eac1968

    If pragmatic actions like taking their seats at Westminster make you question their nationalism, why are you not applying the same standards to Sinn Fein? The Assembly is a British legislature. Members of the executive are Ministers of the Crown (the absence of an oath means little in that regard). Bills cannot become laws without Royal Assent. None of that means much – its all window dressing. But it does make the SF position on Westminster more than a little odd.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    Can someone explain to me is it true that Tony Blair sent a reassurance letter to untrustworthy mc liar mc G – “on no account is this man to be arrested , now that he is a man of peace” 1987 – does this mean that he can not even be questioned? Just asking.

  • Gopher

    The only similarity with gambling is that piece is it’s longer than the Grand National. One Foyle seat is taken by a Unionist that leaves 5. The SDLP are .43 of a quota ahead of SF. People don’t transfer to SF in Foyle the empirical evidence for this is Durkan’s performance in the General election where it seems as certain as the sun rising tomorrow the PBPA vote went to him. Add to this the Greens and Micro Republicans will be standing who did well at the locals. Marty standing does put pressure on Eastwood who will be forced to run 3 instead of 4 but in the same token SF’s third candidate wont be able to give up his day job either.
    Nope this is a purely defensive play from SF and Marty. What they have they intend to demonstrably hold. Add to this being a Fotyle MLA has more cache than a Mid Ulster one.
    Nationalist election tussles are dull affairs

  • Graham Parsons

    It’s not just nationalist politics in the North that has become stale. Across the board we lack a vision for what N. Ireland could or should be. Where is the party that commits itself to:

    Delivering a zero carbon N.I
    Transforming Belfast and Derry into really desirable places to live in and invest in like Odense in Denmark
    Getting rid of university tuition fees
    Proper investment in STEM training with increased university and technical college places.

    Instead what have we got, a cohort of politicians that believe the only way to grow our economy is to give more tax cuts to big business.

  • Acrobat_747

    So you would question the nationalism of SNP? Or Plaid? Or SF?
    All of these parties have many elements where anyone could easily criticise.

    SDLP are clearly a nationalist party. They might not be your brand of nationalism, but neither can you say that your brand should be ‘the one’.

  • Graham Parsons

    I think it’s you that has a problem understanding nationalism not the SDLP.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Big problem for Sinn Féin, and to some extent for the SDLP, PBP, DUP and other parties even independents is that the Foyle turnout is in decline. As I’ve said several times before there is a growing young population in Foyle, some completely disconnected from politics, some have heard it all before, others hear it all but their world doesn’t simply revolve around politics the way local politicians think.

    They’ve all thrown a lot of weight behind their campaigns here, but nearly half the people in Foyle really don’t care. McCann, Eastwood, McGuinness is not going to change this. A lot of people in Foyle will be sick that it becomes a personality contest and question exactly what any of these people will actually do.

    McGuinness did give Mark Durkan a shoe up from somewhat obscurity by contesting Foyle after Hume left, this ironically might give Eastwood the boost he needs.

  • Brendan Heading

    I appreciate that SF are pushing this line, but of course it was SF who voted in that welfare reform in Northern Ireland should be implemented by Her Majesty making an Order in Council.

    The days when an election could be decided in Northern Ireland by whom is the strongest advocate for a united Ireland must surely, by now, be drawing to a close. SF have no more of a plan for making reunification happen than the SDLP do; neither party have set out a clear, technical view of what the reunified state would look like, and likewise neither party is doing anything to address the fact that a consistently large minority within nationalism is in favour of the union in the short and medium term, and that there is no prospect of change for several decades at least. Why should two bald men fight over a comb ?

  • Brendan Heading

    I thought this was a win-win for SF initially, but I see Chris’ point. As an SDLP activist pointed out just now on Twitter, SF have made three unsuccessful attempts to decapitate the SDLP.

    Another factor which I haven’t seen anyone else mention yet (although Chris referred to it indirectly above) is that SF will be fighting two major elections this year, almost back to back. The party will fight the Dáil election harder than any other election they’ve ever fought. Even if they succeed the activist base will be exhausted; but if they fail – and bear in mind almost every Dáil election result in the past 15 years has fallen short of expectations for SF – the party may well find themselves entering the Assembly election with a crisis of confidence in their leadership.

  • Roger

    their position on Westminster is laughable
    i will get in this Ford Mondeo, but not this other one…

  • Roger

    What about Bloody Sunday?
    Is a para running for election?
    Is McG a para?

  • Zig70

    Colum who? I’m a bit dozy but still I honestly forgot his name mid conversation. He’s very quiet.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Are you in favour of sectarian division?

  • Robin Keogh

    Excellent OP Chris thanks. Its so much more satisfying reading a thorough piece of analysis without having to wade through the back hand slaps and opportunistic juvenile digs that have become such a common feature on Slug.

    There is so little excitement out there to motivate nationalist voters. The lack of new shiny things to draw out tired voters has led to a sleepyness in nationalism over the last few years. Hopefully the arrival of a new all Ireland party like PBP will awaken the snoozing dog. Whatever their sucess it will be interesting to follow where their transfers go if we get a chance to see.

    Sinn Fein along with all parties seem to struggle to prove their mettle in Stormont. The limit of powers and the consociational set up (unavoidable as it is for now at least) makes it nigh on impossible to shine. Nationalist voters in the six counties cant use their vote to send reps to a parliament that can make a real and substantial difference to their lives. They also dont have the ‘keep themmuns out’ mentality to quite the same extent as is present within unionism. So the battles shaping up in Derry and WB could well turn out to be turning point in poll attendance for the constits involved.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t think McGuinness is doing this for the travel expenses. He might know Sinn Féin may not get seat three from transfers but would take a one vote victory over the SDLP in terms of a total, with an SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1 outcome as a “moral” victory and the party probably does need something for moral if it might have a few seats under threat in other constituencies.

    Will they get anything from the SDLP, or perhaps maybe more interesting for the Chris Donnellys of the world the stay at home nationalists on their armchair. Maybe, Maybe not.

    There doesn’t seem to be any change in the Sinn Féin strategy for Foyle from previous campaigns, just a change in nominations. By this I mean, there’s usually a big fanfare conference, they make a few radio appearance, they highlight a few aspects of Sinn Féin “delivery” which is going to be hard to do, and then get to campaigning.

    This doesn’t seem to match the energy that is being put into the European campaigns or even how they’d campaign in a seat they had an MP in.

    SDLP have already picked Mark H Durkan, Colum Eastwood and Gerard Diver with Pat Ramsey gone and Martin Reilly pulling out of the co-option, even Brenda Stevenson being linked to be Dallat’s successor in a constituency which does border the Foyle.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What a united Ireland would look like has been discussed by many experts in many ways you would extrapolate …that the buildings wouldn’t change, the people wouldn’t change, the animals and the plants wouldn’t change, the ground and the sky wouldn’t and perhaps the decisions that people make wouldn’t change … there would be reactions and people may choose to change, of course.

    The main existential change would you’d have to have politicians sitting around a table deciding how to deal with financial resources, and to deal with how to set up a government and constitution, if such a united Ireland was to remain a republic, and the general assumption is that it would be, it would probably mean referendums on that constitution.

    Effectively it would be a process very similar to reinitialising Stormont from the Good Friday Agreement, and as such it would be difficult to predetermine the full outcome of what would happen when parties come together, but add to that being a republic, it wouldn’t simply be the parties involved, there may have to be several referendums to deal with the people.

    Hypothetically of course, the mechanics are that, the actions of what that mechanics will do are a matter of what people do with their own agency and available political power as a response.

  • Brendan Heading

    What a united Ireland would look like has been discussed by many experts in many ways

    I don’t believe that to be true at all. When and where ? And where can we find details of the outcome of these discussions ?

    Hypothetically of course, the mechanics are there

    I hate to be a pedant but if something is hypothetical doesn’t that mean the mechanics aren’t there ?

    There are no mechanics there at all – not for reunifying the two states on the island, not even for discussing how they might be reunified. I don’t know anything about the many experts

  • Robin Keogh

    Actually i dont think you understand the SF cumann set up. Each constituency has one or more cumanns and it is their jib to get their guy elected. Yes, its exhausting for the cumann individuals but once the election is done, thats it. So, although i am a south wicklow activist, i have little or nothing to do with say getting a SF candidate in NB elected. Cumann in Antrim are responsible for Antrim. Cumann in Derry are responsible for Derry, thats it. Cumann are autonomous in every wsy, even when it comes to PR. We win or lose on our own hard work. Regardless of the fact that there are two Irish elections this year, the time gap is not an issue. The Dail election will be over before paddys day, with a full two months before the Stormont vote. As such I have volunteered to canvas in the north east of the country come the time, as have many others from my neck of the woods. The party’s only expectation in the dail elections is to beat the 9% we got last time. We will do that handsomely. The only way is up 😉

  • Brendan Heading

    Each constituency has one or more cumanns and it is their jib to get their guy elected

    Of course I know nothing about SF internals, but what you have described is the same as a local association within any other political party.

    I don’t believe for one second that the party centrally plays no role in managing elections. How could it ? Party management during elections is very important. In all parties, you’ll have local egos would rather concentrate on their own patch than help out elsewhere.

    It is a fact that during the European elections SF ran almost no campaign in the north, sending their activists and their best election managers south of the border. Why would they do otherwise ? They were guaranteed to top the poll before it even started and were running only one candidate – why waste time knocking doors up here when they could be getting an extra MEP in the south ?

  • SDLP supporter

    Brenda Stevenson would be a first class MLA for East Derry, IMHO and would be proactive in putting an SDLP organisation on the ground that East Derry constituency so badly needs.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Brendan, my first point about what a united Ireland would look like, it would look to people the same way Ireland does now, in the same way as the UK would look like if it left the EU. Only after a period of time will the social, economic and political forces reveal what choosing a united Ireland results in. All these things are down to unpredictable human agency to some extent.

    If I were to ask what does the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland look now, in comparison to what they looked like before partition, you would say well they are not as industrialized as they once were, you would say they are more retail based than agrarian based, they’ve gone from central governments making decisions on nationalized industries to so called free-market based economies that try to use lower corporation tax and or fuel duty to capture FDI. Many of the old buildings, many of the old attitudes haven’t changed however. Though other’s have.

    Carson and Craig, DeValera and Collins would not have envisioned the island being anything like that. Theoretical economics of their time wouldn’t be able to judge what Ireland would look like, but they’d know the ambitions of the politicians involved and what they would likely do if they got power, while remaining skeptical about what they can do if they get into power.

    Similarly if someone were to ask what would Northern Ireland look like after the Good Friday Agreement, I doubt any of the participates on either side of the campaign would imagine where we are now was the result. The main difference being there is more of an economic case to be made for this referendum not simply a political one.

    It would be more like trying to put something like Fresh Start to the people, or the SNP’s white paper to the electorate.

    The mechanics for uniting Ireland are outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. First there would have to be two referendums, as was the case in the Good Friday Agreement. Then there would have to be negotiations between the UK government, the Irish government and the parties in the Northern Irish assembly. There would have to be the setting up of institutions on the basis of the outcome of the talks.

    At the moment the majority of Northern Ireland doesn’t want to lose the security of being in the United Kingdom where it has only a thirty fourth of the political franchise for the risk and potential of being part of a United Ireland where it would have a quarter of the political franchise.

    Simply put, Northern Ireland or the Six Counties would have a one quarter stake of redefining what Ireland actually is.

    I suppose it’s not so much a matter of what a united Ireland looks like, but what work politicians are going to do to make the latter case more attractive.

    How the likes of the SDLP and Sinn Féin tackle policy matters in Stormont, How the Dublin government run things in its own jurisdiction and how it interacts with “The North”, what the UK government is doing for Northern Ireland, and guessing the state of the economies of the nations resulting from that are making the cases to the electorate.

    The SNP had to choose to back NATO to increase their potential to attract support from those skeptical about Scottish independence, the No Camp had to change from Project Fear and offer something better than inertia to the Scottish people. Nationalist parties would have to change themselves to broaden their support as would Unionists.

    It comes down as much to the willpower of the electorate, than simply the will power of the politicians. Similar insights can be made about other constitutional changes in Northern Ireland politics, such as Brexit or even having an opposition in Stormont.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Were there not local government elections on both sides of the border on at the same time?

    In this region Sinn Féin got 105 local government seats, and their MEP elected. So I imagine they had strong campaigners in the streets in Northern Ireland.,_2014,_2014

    Though in terms of local government it’s predicted they had experienced a nominal 10 seat loss, in comparison to the SDLP’s nominal 1seat loss. However, the first preference vote does show Sinn Féin’s first preferences went down by half as much as the SDLP’s in the same election.

    A bit of slippage, with a bit more damage to Sinn Féin, with those 10 seats it would’ve been merely 15 short of the DUP.

  • Croiteir

    Chris – may I take you up on the regional support for areas like Strabane. When I castigated SF on their inaction in juxtaposition of unionisms response following job losses in Larne, Carrick and East Belfast in setting up special action to attract jobs to these areas I pointed out the endemic unemployment that has been generational in areas such as Strabane made these areas more eligible for special intervention than East Antrim, even following the job losses suffered, boy did the shinners weigh in to me on that one. Poor Strabane – left sucking on the back teat again as it suited the shinners policy of “unioinist reachout”, which is, in effect, certainly in that case, appeasement or bribery.
    Unionism did what exactly it always does, and rightly so, pocket the gesture, and point out to the voters that they have delivered for them and get the votes and justification for their stance. (Appeasement, no matter for what reason, only justifies the stance of those being appeased and encourages the misbehaviour).
    Now that boat has sailed, there will be no special treatment for Ballymena, (following their job losses), or Strabane.
    This is because of two reasons.
    Firstly Stormont has been told that sub regional intervention/growth is not justifiable. If this means that it is not in the program for govt you can be assured they may talk about it, but it will not happen
    Secondly the lack of solidarity amongst nationalist parties, they are no longer looking at themselves as a people. They have been acculturalised to getting their arses onto seats in Stormont. What will happen is that the reps will fight for their own areas. Jobs will be a key to re election, gone are the days of allowing West Belfast labour to wait. And as the East has more reps than the West guess were the most clamour for jobs will come from, and that is the squeaking gate that will get the oil.

  • Croiteir

    But remember, SF have to be lucky only once, and no matter who is the leader of SDLP, they will always be vulnerable to SF

  • SDLP supporter

    “have to be lucky only once”. Yes, Croitear, SF’s military wing, the Provisional IRA, said that about Thatcher when they mortared Downing Street. But they never got her, did they, and Thatcher died in her bed.

  • Croiteir

    My word – I never knew that – I thought I made it up. I am truly shocked. Perhaps the SDLP will go along with what SF did, sign up to an agreement that gives you something to cover defeat. But then again what punishment can the SDLP inflict? I can see no Canary Wharf equivalent.

  • Croiteir

    Why? Seriously. What skills does she have?

  • SDLP supporter

    I thank the Lord that SDLP never had, and never will have, a ‘Canary Wharf equivalent’, as you so delicately put it, and neither does the Provisional movement. As I have said before, the greatest of Gerry Adams’s many services to the Provisional movement is that he had them well down the road of disarmament by 9/11. If that hadn’t been the case, the CIA-aided and abetted by MI5-would have destroyed the lot of them.

  • Robin Keogh

    And went straight to heaven

  • eamoncorbett

    There remains a very active John Hume vote in Derry , its a personal thing and it wont change just yet.

  • Ryan

    There was just a 1% gap between SF and SDLP in 2011….. I have my money on Marty winning it.

  • Brendan Heading

    So I imagine they had strong campaigners in the streets in Northern Ireland.

    Kevin, your imagination is a wonderful thing. We are all very grateful for it and the regular insights that we get into its activity.

    However, if you wish to add anything factual to this conversation which is aligned with the context within which my comments were made, I’d be really delighted to hear it.

  • Gaygael

    Winning what?
    SF outpolling the SDLP? Marty winning an Assembly seat? SF taking a seat from the SDLP?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I did contribute facts … See the wiki. Sinn Féin came out party number 2 in the elections, so who is to say their grassroots didn’t try?

  • Brendan Heading

    so who is to say their grassroots didn’t try?

    Nobody said their grassroots didn’t try. I guess this is where your imagination comes in.

  • Brendan Heading


    I’m really sorry. You’ve written a long and exhaustive reply which has very little to do with my point. This seems to be a bit of a pattern on your part. I don’t mind people telling me I’m wrong (I’m often wrong). But you consistently seem to miss whatever my point is.

    I will repeat myself once more, and then stop. None of the nationalist parties have a plan for reuniting Ireland. No formal proposal for reunifying Ireland, reconstructing the government, reorganising the economy, rewriting the constitution or addressing the serious social issues and potential for civil disorder that might arise from it. There is no consensus at all, even between nationalists, that any of these things are even necessary. SF have proposed, for example, that healthcare free at the point of delivery be extended across the island. But this hasn’t been costed, and hasn’t been agreed in principle.

    You’ve tried to counter my point by pointing out your opinion of what it would look like. That’s great, but it doesn’t address my point. Nationalists have no plan to reunite Ireland. If you want to gainsay this – please go ahead, and show me where I can read about the plan.

    The mechanics for uniting Ireland are outlined in the Good Friday Agreement

    The Agreement only defines the circumstances under which the UK and Irish governments will give effect to reunification (namely a referendum). If you think this amounts to “mechanics for uniting Ireland” you have, at best, an extremely limited grasp on what the reality of Irish reunification will actually amount to – which underscores my point – nationalists have not given due thought or consideration to this very serious subject. How will the economies be realigned ? How will taxes be operated ? What will happen to the NHS ? Where do we stand if the UK is not in the EU ?

    Now usually the answer is “oh, well we’ll sort that out after the referendum”. That isn’t going to do. You need a plan that defines what you’ll do after you win the referendum. Otherwise, you don’t have a plan. Which is what I am trying to tell you.

    My other point is that nationalists are doing nothing to actually create the circumstances, outlined in the GFA, under which a referendum can be brought. Nationalists are not trying to persuade anyone to reunite Ireland. They are hoping to accomplish it by force of numbers. That’s not going to work.

    Simply put, Northern Ireland or the Six Counties would have a one quarter stake of redefining what Ireland actually is.

    You’re worrying about details like this before you’ve even sorted out how you’re going to win the referendum.

  • Kevin Breslin

    As it stands the economy on this island works with overlapping tax regimes and overlapping currencies, there has been plenty of legislation for two systems it’s not as difficult as you would think for a single government to legislate for one. That would require a currency phasing out of the pound, for the euro or some other currency.

    Southern Ireland has already set up tax regimes, managed currency transitions and set up a health service which already is Northern Ireland’s regional provider of paediatric cardiovascular services. There would be financial issues, and the Scotland-England situation that existed pre-devolution does indicate you can run two different health services in the one island within the one nation. Northern Ireland has a separate system to England and Wales mostly, the more critical aspect is Barnett Subvention.

    Both sides of the island manage divergent currencies, divergent taxes and divergent public spending already.

    I’d also assume that if there were a Brexit and an Irish State were to be in the EU, I don’t think either state would be trying to scrap CTZ which existed prior to the UK and Irish accession to the EEC, worst case is defaulting to pre-CTZ arrangements, which would be hugely unpopular across the islands. In this situation I’d think both parties would seek to have CTZ, Ireland opt out of Schengen and have an arrangement like Norway has with Sweden. There would be pressure on both nations to ensure critical aspects like free trade, tree travel and free association remain.

    It’s all feasible, there is certainly a way if there’s a will, you’ve had two regions who set up a lot of their own infrastructure it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of difficulty to integrate it. Northern Ireland is divergent from the rest of the United Kingdom as it is from the Republic of Ireland. I’ll admit there isn’t the will for unity even among Irish Catholics identifying as nationalist, but unification may be more optimal under a different political and economic scenario than there is now.

    How a united Ireland might be designed and engineered is not as big an issue as financial aspects and social aspects. A unionist could point out that a lot of what I said applies equally to the Republic of Ireland rejoining with Britain in a unified state and it does. In both cases the alienation and disassociation and identity aspects wouldn’t change, I doubt taxes, travel or even healthcare is a critical game changer in these aspects. What I mean is Unionists are not going to change for low taxes, citizens of the Republic aren’t going to surrender their independence for the NHS. There would probably have to be a major cultural shift towards a more British Ireland or a more Irish Britain to inspire the social will and the social buy in.

  • Croiteir

    Yep – the SDLP are a toothless kitten, but at least SF can cause problems, even though they wont, they like the cutlery too much by now.

  • Brendan Heading

    Kevin, you’re obviously going to just keep replying to me without reading what I’m saying or understanding my point, so I’ll just leave it here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If you were asking what Sinn Féin or the SDLP do in a united Ireland, the obvious response is that there’s no guarantee either of them would actually be in government. Non nationalists in Northern Ireland would be just as big a block in the whole of Ireland as Sinn Féin would be in the whole of Ireland on this current bounce.

    Effectively the de facto leader of the unity campaign would probably be the Taoiseach or some other government minister.

    Governments aren’t in control of the economy, they aren’t in control of society, and even what they want to do to get a United Ireland strongly would depend on how many people are willing to work to implement changes. A good example of this was the unwilingness of people to buy into the Second Dáil government.

    So obviously there would have to be civic discussions on these matters.

    All a side can say is what they can do, not what will happen and what the outcomes will look like. Many people who do that simply state what they feel will happen is what we will see happening. Their expectations might be popular in some quarters, but that’s not a guarantee that anything would turn out as expected.

    A classic example of this is Lord Castlereagh trying to sell the Ireland and Britain union on the basis of Catholic Emancipation, it took nearly a century for it to get legal recognition due to political interference. This is less likely in more modern democratic states.

    If you look at for example the English-Scottish union, a lot of systems like law, education and eventually even health were never really united, much of the culture wasn’t united either.

    So it is kind of a case of implementing a decision on having the one state, forming a unitary government or federal government, and letting the people of the island achieve the rest.

    People redefine what the Republic of Ireland is with several referendums, and government changes … we’re not experiencing in Northern Ireland simply because we don’t have the desire to elect parties who can handle a system they would spend a long time losing in, particularly the top two parties as it stands.

  • Lord Coleraine

    Eastwood. His father Clint used to make western movies.

  • Lord Coleraine

    Quite possibly. Definitely. Probably not.

  • mjh

    Yes there was only a 1.3% gap between SF and SDLP in 2011. SDLP had 35.3% and SF 34.0%. A difference of just 499 votes.
    So – on the face of it – a small swing of 0.7% from SDLP to SF results in an SF vote share of 34.7% just ahead of the SDLP on 34.6%.

    Job done? Well no. Actually very far from it.

    The problem for SF lies in those pesky transfers. The SDLP got more transfers than SF. So by Stage 6 of the count, when the third SF candidate was excluded, the SDLP lead over SF had grown from 499 votes to 2396 votes. To compensate for that SF would have needed a swing of 3.1% – meaning a first preference share of 37.1% to the SDLP’s 32.2%.

    But even a swing of that size would not have transferred the third SDLP seat to SF. True it would have put the SF third candidate a handful of votes ahead of the third SDLP candidate, but both of them would have been ahead of PBPA. How McCann’s votes had then transferred would have determined which of them took the final seat.
    We do not know for certain how the PBPA votes would have transferred – but the indications are that the SDLP would take more – possibly substantially more – of them.

    McCann’s vote can be divided into two parts. The core PBPA voters – largely made up of those 1307 people who voted for the party in the Council elections held on the same day. Here the record shows that around half of them did not transfer at all. But amongst those who did the SDLP gained 117 more than SF. Another 44 transferred to unionist parties – most of whom would almost certainly have favoured the SDLP over SF. That pushes the required swing up to 3.3%.

    But what of the 1800 or so McCann voters who did not vote for PBPA Council candidates? The only clue to where they came from is to compare the parties’ vote shares in the Assembly and the Council elections. In the absence of McCann the SF Council share was only 0.01% points higher than their Assembly share. While the SDLP’s share was 0.19% points higher.

    This suggests that McCann probably took more of his personal votes from the SDLP than from SF. Quite probably substantially more. The implication is that SF would have needed a swing from the SDLP significantly above 3.5% in order to take the third SDLP seat.

  • Gaygael

    Thanks Ryan. 😉

  • barnshee

    “So I imagine they had strong campaigners in the streets in Northern Ireland.”

    Nonsense- like the DUP there are streets in NI where SF campaigners dare not set foot

  • barnshee

    Ah I remember it well the day “of orchestrated, intense and prolonged violence for a number of hours “- and the army replied with bullets

  • Reader

    I can see Brendan’s point. You are constantly talking about what happens in a United Ireland. Brendan is asking what happens before. Maybe some closed questions would help:
    What is SF’s plan for getting, and winning a referendum?
    What is the SDLP’s plan for getting, and winning a referendum?
    What is SF’s plan for the United Ireland Economy and public sector?
    What is the SDLP plan for the United Ireland Economy and public sector?
    I think a reasonable answer to all of the above is “I don’t know”. But maybe you know?

  • Reader

    Gaygael:Thanks Ryan. 😉
    You’re welcome.